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Simon Carr

The Sketch: Yates of the Yard may be a nice man but he's no Sherlock Holmes

"We did a little police work of our own," Paul Farrelly told Assistant Commissioner Yates. "We rang up the News of the World and asked how many Nevilles they had working for them. The answer was – one."

That was a piece of Sherlock work the Met hadn't felt up to doing itself. Officers had seen the name Neville handwritten on transcripts of criminally hacked messages and assumed they'd never track the fellow down.

The only Neville working for the NOTW at the time, you see, happened to be the chief reporter. This wasn't considered worthy of inquiry by the Met's finest. The investigation was, how shall we say, dilatory? Run by completely useless numpty-tumpties?

The police met the Screws lawyers and asked something like, "Have any of your executives been involved in a criminal conspiracy to hack phones? No? Do you promise? As your hands are under the table, will you certify you haven't got your fingers crossed?"

Yates said they were obliged to take anything the Murdoch lawyers said "at face value".

Is Yates going to survive this? The mockery is one thing, and the loss of reputation is a second, but there was an awful lot of "That wasn't true, was it?"

Yes, there are insinuations in the air which may yet come out disastrously for the Met in the civil court cases.

Yates is probably a likeable fellow. Well-educated. Knows what "semantic" means. That came in handy. He was wearing his frank face yesterday, and had asked to come and rebut Chris Bryant's accusations from the other week. It amazed the committee that he'd offer himself up in this way.

Tom Watson wrung him like a towel. He's done jolly well, Watson – he'd confessed to the House that he was frightened of the Murdoch press. If he's frightened now – and why wouldn't he be – he's acting with courage.

His questioning was very quiet, very polite, and with a very certain tread. Yates found himself having to answer yes to, "Are you aware of the phrase 'acting on information'?" The poor sap had been trying to hold the line that published claims, accusations and confessions weren't "evidence" but "information" and therefore not worthy of attention.

Again and again he found himself resisting propositions which he had to accede to in the end – most significantly in the case of Rebekah Brooks. When editor of the Screws, she blurted out to the committee that her paper paid policemen for stories (a criminal offence).

How Yates writhed rather than answer Watson's question – should the woman be prosecuted for doing what she had admitted she had done?

Yates finally said, "... a possible offence has been committed, yes".

Poor old Yates of the Yard. He'd always be done by a Sherlock Holmes but now he's being undone by a Watson.