The Sketch: Hoon said there was no shortfall of body armour. Or there was. Or, er, something

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The Independent Online

Only a dozen Labour MPs turned out to support the Government in the Opposition Day debate on Iraq. Only one spoke. He'd been given 20 minutes' notice to do so by the Whips. What does that suggest? Institutional guilt? Shame? Horror at being seen on the scaffold with Geoff Hoon? There is no honourable answer.

Nicholas Soames led the Tory charge. What a magnificent body of men he is - and all contained in the one suit. He pointed out that the National Audit Office had produced a report on the level of equipment provided by the Ministry of Defence in the recent war. There were quite astonishing gaps in the quartermaster's stores.

Mr Soames quoted the report claiming no one knew where equipment was, 200,000 sets of body armour had gone missing, the nuclear suits didn't arrive or didn't work, the satellite link to London broke down on the first day of the war, and, far from being able to find Iraqi chemical weapons, we couldn't even find our own chemical defences - HQ 1 Armoured Division sent a search team all the way back from Kuwait to Bicester to try and find their missing stores.

And yet - the most damaging charge - the Government must have fully expected a chemical or biological or even nuclear attack - it was the single over-powering reason Tony Blair sent them in the first place.

Why wasn't the kit ordered in time? Mr Soames offered the lowest reason possible. Forward orders weren't placed because the Labour backbench would have heard about it and mutinied, realising that the Government was going to war, whatever happened in the House. The truth, to paraphrase the X-Files , is down there.

Mr Hoon told us that there are always shortages. And anyway there weren't shortages. Or if there were shortages they didn't matter. And if there were shortages that did matter they'd learnt the lesson. And it was a magnificent achievement. When you look at it in context. You need to look at it in its totality.

One particular line of ministerial defence went that 98 per cent of the body armour did actually arrive "in theatre" in time. That rendered mysterious the death of Sergeant Steven Roberts who'd been told by colleagues to give his body armour to someone who needed it more. Sergeant Roberts was then shot dead. Mr Hoon repeated the 98 per cent claim.

Outside the chamber, in the ante-room of the press gallery, Sergeant Roberts' widow Samantha was sitting on a sofa. She's young, pretty, blonde, capable. As she is - as she was - a sergeant's wife, it makes you want to be a sergeant. What did she feel about Mr Hoon's claim that 98 per cent of the body armour needed arrived in theatre? "It made me feel a bit stupid," she said. "When he first said it, I believed him. Then it turns out that 98 per cent of the armour arrived in theatre but didn't get distributed to the troops."

Ahhh... we should remember Mrs Roberts' two remarks. "I believed him. It made me feel a bit stupid."

Lest we forget.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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