The Sketch: Imagine what a proper lawyer would make of this lot in cross-examination

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The Independent Online

A boss of mine once said: "I'm 40, never been fitter, playing the best squash of my life; the pro at the RAC is nearly 60, he never takes more than two steps in any direction and I've never got more than three points off him in a game."

So it was with News International's sometime legal chief Tom Crone. He sat with an air of sacrifice about him. He knew what we were expecting. The committee certainly felt confident.

In the event, he never took more than two steps in any direction, and they barely managed to get a couple of points off him. He and the last editor of the Screws, Colin Myler, had been summoned to explain the discrepancies in the NI hacking evidence.

They'd both been in front of the committee a couple of years ago. Mr Crone's evidence still relied heavily on I Don't Recall and Not To My Knowledge (16 times by my reckoning), but he had ingenious explanations for why they were so nice to their convicted reporter Clive Goodman: they gave him hundreds of thousands of pounds and paid for his lawyer because they didn't want his family to suffer.

Equally ingenious was why they had a confidentiality clause on Gordon Taylor's million (Taylor wanted it like that), and his previous assertion that a desire for secrecy had played no part in his negotiations: "There's a difference between secrecy and confidentiality."

This got the wrong sort of laughter, but there were moments where legal precision worked in his favour. Tom Watson had said that Taylor had asked for a million and that the legal firm Farrer's had given him this information. "I didn't know that," Crone said. Watson, incredulous, cried: "You didn't know they'd asked for £1m!" But Crone didn't have to move his feet to return the volley. "I didn't know you'd got it from Farrer's."

The committee did get a sort of admission that they'd fully briefed James Murdoch on the situation (something he denies) but I wouldn't be surprised if their obtuse questioning has left him room for manoeuvre. The forensic capacity of the committee is pitiful. If they'd appoint counsel they'd get 10 times the information in a 10th of the time.