The Sketch: The questions were gentle, the answers opaque

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The Independent Online

"So, it's a yellow card. The next time it'll be a red card." The nice young man from the Cabinet Office was letting me know there had been complaints about my behaviour. A staff member organising the Chilcot inquiry had felt "intimidated" by me.

We aren't allowed recording equipment in the hearing room. I asked "Why?" three times. Receiving no answer except that they had a rule, I said in one of my more disagreeable ways, "It's pathetic!"

Actually, we should be allowed recording equipment in there. The subtitles produced by a stenographer look like cryptic crossword clues. "The fact was" came out as "fatwas". The "JIC" was "the jirk" and "Iraq" was "Iran". Maybe the typist had done the work on the intelligence for the war.

But returning to the "I felt intimidated" Cabinet Officer. They should teach resilience to these vulnerable people. If they can feel intimidated by someone like me how could they have resisted Alastair Campbell? Which, as we know, they didn't. You can't have people organising a war feeling intimidated all the time. It was Blair's problem with Bush, I suppose. But it was Blair who got a yellow card.

The morning's papers had the news that the source for the Government's 45-minute claim had been an Iraqi officer andhis source had been a taxi driver who'd had some WMD in the back of his cab a year or so before. Obviously Sir John wasn't going to ask about that in this session. That wouldn't be right. "There may be points relevant but it is not a matter for this session," he said wisely.

No, they only had Sir John Scarlett, former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee. What light would he be able to cast on the vast intelligence catastrophe that resulted in half a million deaths? The questioning was more than usually gentle and the answers more than usually opaque. Iraq was "the top priority, but there were other top priorities, as I have tried to explain", he said.

"Sketch Writers 3, News Gatherers Nil," my colleague sighed.

"And we sent a JIC note which is not easy to distinguish from an assessment," he concluded to a communal death rattle from news gatherers everywhere. There was one moment when he said "the assessment staff were instructed to firm up their judgements" and that caused a ripple.

But it disappeared in the diaphanous defence he made. No, he hadn't been aware of [Defence Intelligence Staff's] Brian Jones' dissenting voice. The damning email from someone else? Couldn't remember it. And other remarks so contestable they cried out for cross-examination.

Well, they didn't want him to feel intimidated, did they?

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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