The Sketch: At least let justice be seen not to be done

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The Independent Online

Detective Sergeant Yates. I say this in tone of wonderment, really. What on earth did someone called Detective Sergeant Yates think he was doing? This isn't my question. Chairman Tony Wright asked it first, a little more politely than I will. DS Yates of the Yard thought he could construct a question that would confound the upper echelons of the political establishment. Some of the country's finest minds – legally-trained linguistic and political multi-talents – have been trying to do that for a decade. Not one has succeeded. Not one has come close. It has proved impossible for dancing masters well beyond the range of Percy Plod.

One of the heads of the Crown Prosecution Service was with him. She said three things which made it difficult to take her seriously either. "We have perpetuated best practice." And the definition of "commercial loan is fact-sensitive" and finally, "The investigation worked in an excellent way". You can't go round saying that sort of thing without attracting mockery.

The witnesses were smug behind an impenetrable defence. Whenever asked an interesting question (Why did the investigation take so long? Why was the diary inadmissible evidence? What led the police to believe someone was conspiring to pervert the course of justice? Why was the Prime Minister interviewed as a witness – if he was signing off the nominations shouldn't he have been questioned as a suspect? When did the police become aware of a separate server in Downing St for e-mail traffic) they were told, "That would lead me to the evidential barriers I don't want to cross." Or, more pointedly: "You are not aware of and I will not disclose the evidence relating to that." In other words, leaks only while an investigation is actually in progress.

Two big hits from the committee. Gordon Prentice asked if the e-mails were archived, or whether they were in sequence? (A basic piece of intelligence anyone would know who'd pored over the evidence. "I don't know," the DS said.

And then the chairman recalled how Mr Yates had assured the world he was taking robust steps to stop the (many, many, police-friendly) leaks that were taking place. "And yet," the chairman said, "I've had respectable lobby journalists who say you briefed them."

And the reply: "I've never met a lobby journalist in my life." I won't suggest the sergeant wasn't telling the truth because, apart from anything else, I wouldn't want anyone, for instance Alistair Darling's people, shouting at us down the phone. But, how shall we put it? Press gallery chatter suggests there is rather more behind that confident assertion.

Tony Wright has every reason to be quietly furious with the police. They told the DS he hadn't a hope of getting a conviction, for all sorts of reasons.

And now, the committee cannot conduct its own investigation. We wanted to see that. Justice wouldn't have been done, but it wouldn't have been done in public. That's the British way.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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