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Simon Carr

The Sketch: Yates has been taking lessons from the book of Blair, not Conan Doyle

Lestrade of the Yard was Conan Doyle's counterpoint for Sherlock Holmes. He hadn't any aptitude for solving crimes but reached the top of his profession by sheer tenacity. He was a bit fictional as well so he's not a complete match for Asst Commissioner John Yates. But if you want a picture of a policeman bound up in the processes of his profession and a victim of the peculiar pressures of celebrity law enforcement – here he is.

If you saw him in the dock, you'd convict him, never mind he was just a witness. You'd remark on his shiftiness, his evasiveness, his refusal to answer ordinary questions. You'd wonder what it was he was hiding.

A basic question. There were nearly 3,000 people on that private eye's list, the one who went to jail. Some names had PINs and passwords attached. You'd want to know if your own name featured, wouldn't you? Had everyone on the list been informed that they had been vulnerable?

He replied: "I don't think it's helpful in any public forum to talk about individuals who may or may not be on that list, all that does is to start a process of further and further discrimination... it's a guessing game and I don't want to go there."

A what? Who was asking about individuals? Had the people on the criminal's list been told they were there, or had they not? All our Lestrade would say was: "We believe we have taken all reasonable steps." Notice that is one step removed from "we have taken all reasonable steps", it's a lesson from the Book of Blair.

He was more affirmative that stealing someone's PIN wasn't a crime. It might be against the law, he suggested, but it wasn't an actionable offence. And how about this: there was no evidence that MPs had their phones interfered with "in the sense of the evidence I've talked about".

Chris Bryant had told the House the day before that he had by dint of his own investigation found his name was on the list, and after being told to make his own enquiries he was told by his phone company that his phone had indeed been hacked. So, had Bryant been told his name was on the list? Long pause. Then, "It's the point I made earlier about who's on what list and who might be subject to what level of interference or to what level of... (continued page 94)." He also added that he was "trying to protect other people's privacy".

Well, there was a point. If that list were actively used, could the people on it join in a class action against the News of the World? Is that anything to do with it?

We know the Met is very careful of the Murdoch might (another admission that the Screws had paid policemen was dismissed because "it was seven years ago"). It can't be just general uselessness. Or maybe it can. Mr Yates isn't Mr Lestrade after all.