The Sketch: Language like this makes Prescott sound articulate

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The Independent Online

There are reasons why London's not a pile of radioactive rubble – but Assistant Commissioner Yates can't be one of them. He's in charge of anti-terrorism. He was also in charge of the five-year phone hacking investigation that Miss Marple's parrot might have solved in a 25-minute episode with two commercial breaks.

One of the Metropolitan Police Authority committee suggested yesterday that Yates had been "tetchy" the last time he'd defended his flat-footed investigation at the News of the World. He explained: "I was being expected to act upon facts that in no way could be developed into evidence."

And if that sounds like John Prescott, try his Scotland Yard boss Tim Godwin (acting commissioner). This most senior of policemen is going "to restore confidence in these victims who feel we haven't given the service which we want to be able to answer as we go forward".

It's not exactly speech, is it, more a game you play with fridge magnets.

While we're on that subject, John Prescott in the Lords was, at the very same time, calling for a judicial review into the Met, "that foster child of silence and slow time", he didn't quite say – but compared with the cops our former deputy PM was Keatsian.

Yates' defence is interesting in one respect. It is semantic. That suggests he's spent too long in the company of politicians. He said the article in The New York Times (accusations of wrongdoing by a staff member at the time) amounted merely to "rumour, innuendo and gossip".

A committee member asked at what point rumour and gossip achieved the status of intelligence. It's an important point. If an Islamic activist makes allegations, or offers testimony, or makes charges against certain of his bomb-happy confreres, will Yates describe that as "rumour, innuendo and gossip"?

We may never find out why Yates decided not to question senior executives at News International. When John Whittingdale's committee had some of the top guns in, they got the limpest, most lamentable answers from salarymen suffering from senile dementia. And I mean no disrespect to the demented.

They had seen nothing, knew nothing, remembered nothing. "A newspaper, you say? You imply I should know what a newspaper is?"

But it was said openly in committee, by an ex-editor, that the Screws paid police officers for stories. Could this conceivably have had any bearing on the fact that Met questioning of News International witnesses was of the order, "Do you or do you not deny you'd like another glass of Chardonnay?"

It's getting quite exciting. Rebekah Brooks has pledged to root herself out, if I've taken her meaning rightly. Yates is going to arrest Godwin and James Murdoch will be running his empire via a hackable mobile in a Pentonville cell. Or not, as the case may be.



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