Railroaded into taking the blame

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The Independent Online
I thought we might have exhausted the subject of Japan, and apologies, and the Burma Railway, and all that, but a most extraordinary document landed on my desk yesterday that has caused me to think again.

It has come from my mole within Railtrack.

(Oh, yes, I, too, have a mole within Railtrack. All good journalists have moles everywhere. I, for instance, have moles within the Tate Gallery, several water boards, the Cabinet, Tottenham Hotspur Football Club and the National Trust. I get regular reports from them. I can seldom use these reports as nobody would believe them. Half of them I do not believe myself. For instance, my mole in the Tate reported to me the other day that its director had broken down in tears one day, in the main gallery, saying over and over: "My God, it's all rubbish! It's all rubbish! How can I do this to people?" Would anyone really believe that ... ?)

(Well, since you ask, I don't get much news as such from my mole inside Tottenham Hotspur. Occasionally he meets me at a motorway service station half-way up the M1. He shoves over an envelope containing about pounds 100,000 in used notes. I say: "What's this for?" and he winks and drives off. I don't know whether to keep it or not, so I put it all in a cupboard. I've got about pounds 300,000 by now.)

(The mole inside the National Trust is the odd one out. He feeds me lots of stories, but they are all nice to the trust. He sends me notes saying: "Hi, Miles! Good news from the National Trust! Sales of lavender-scented National Trust pen'n'pencil sets reached an all-time record high in 1995!" Well, call me old-fashioned, but this is not what I call a scoop. I don't even call it particularly hush-hush. I sent him a letter once, asking him strictly to dish me some dirt, but all I got back was some jubilant stuff about acquiring another 100 miles of coastline. Sometimes I think my mole in the trust has been turned, and is feeding me rubbish on its instructions.)

(Anyway, I got this confidential memo from my mole in Railtrack yesterday ...)

Hold on. What am I doing inside a bracket?

I don't need brackets now. I'm off the branch line and on to the main line!

So my mole from Railtrack writes and says: "Miles! They're on to me, I think! I may be rumbled soon. But we've got the big one here! This memo from Railtrack is sensational! Forget railway accidents and rail privatisation and politicising the trains, etc - this is enormous! You won't believe your eyes! In this memo Railtrack comes right out and apologises for its part in the Second World War!"

And he's right. The memo is dynamite. It comes from the highest level inside Railtrack, and is addressed to a Mr Major, who appears to be quite high up in our Government.

"Dear Mr Major," (it says). "We take your point about Railtrack. We are, as you say, the most unpopular authority in the country at the moment. We do, as you so inimitably say, make the Tory party look like the Queen Mum. And therefore, as you also say, Railtrack can be blamed for almost everything at the moment, and it will not make our reputation any the worse.

"I therefore am disposed to grant your request for us to shoulder the blame for the Second World War. As you say, the Japanese cannot go on being blamed for everything that took place in the Second World War, nor do they particularly wish to do so. The Japanese can afford to be a bit gracious about expressing remorse, but enough is enough, and it is time that Railtrack did its bit.

"Whether the public will be satisfied by our taking the responsibility for all the deaths on the Burma Railway is another matter. We are certainly willing to try, but remember that the casualty rate on the Burma Railway was far higher than anything known today - you might say that it was an object lesson in what goes wrong when railway privatisation falls into the wrong hands - and I am not satisfied that all the correct safety procedures were in position.

"Nevertheless, as all of us in Railtrack owe everything to you, and as you did very early on say that we might be expected to have to get our hands dirty, I would like to put it on record that we are prepared to apologise for the Second World War and the Burma Railway safety record. Meanwhile, maybe you could get the Japanese to apologise for the death of the British motorbike industry!

"Just joking.

"I will get a draft apology to you as soon as possible."

Dynamite, I think you will agree.