The Sketch: Perry Mason & Co let their man off the hook

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The Independent Online

If you missed the appearance, here it is in full. The committee: "They said you were lying." James Murdoch: "They're lying." Eight years ago, Chris Bryant MP asked a pertinent question of Rebekah Brooks, or Wade as she was at the time, and – by accident – she told him the truth. They have learnt that lesson well, at News International.

Here we still are, harrowing the same acre. In the two-and-a-half-hour grilling (or poaching or lightly steaming) MPs asked Murdoch a series of questions to which the answer was No: "Do you feel humbled?" "Are you incompetent?" "Have you misled the committee?" "Is it in the public interest to tell lies?" And "will you guarantee to publicise every nefarious activity your company has been involved in?"

Tom Watson asked him the most implausible one: "Are you the first mafia boss in history that doesn't realise he's running a criminal empire?" It was the meringue pie moment. People gasped, audibly. That lot were never the mafia – J Edgar Hoover at best. If best is the word.

Watson had another Perry Mason moment. As Murdoch wasn't answering his questions in the right way, ("I did it all, and I don't care! Ha ha ha!") Watson said, "I wasn't going to do this but..." And as we leaned forward, "... I have spoken to Neville Thurlbeck." Sensation in court! "It was a private conversation but it is in the public interest to disclose it." Treachery! Greater sensation!

He read out – too quickly for older observers – an account of a conversation between various parties (Paul Farrelly had to interrupt to identify them) about crucial information that was to be presented to Murdoch.

It must be worth repeating that MPs are just not equipped to despatch this level of business. They asked their long, ruminative questions. They asked Murdoch to speculate on what other witnesses might have said to each other. They failed to assemble the circumstances of the circumstantial case. They relied on outraged incredulity ("it is inconceivable that"). Ms Mensch went off to pick up her children ("the same age as yours," she told Murdoch).

Are they humbled enough to admit their limits and appoint counsel to get what they want? Another question to which the answer is No.