The Sketch: John Yates was thrashed and trashed by a merciless chair

Simon Carr
Sunday 23 October 2011 04:23

At one point Nicola Blackwood said she felt she'd fallen down a rabbit hole. It's true: we were all in a Wonderland. We'd just seen a former head of counter-terrorism giving us an end of the pier comedy show – Frankie Howerd meets Gene Hunt. This curious conglomerate Mr Andy Hayman (described to his face by Lorraine Fullbrook as "a dodgy geezer") had been in charge of the investigation into phone hacking – an investigation remarkable for the lack of investigating. Questioning had him comprehensively failing to examine evidence against News International, accepting a retirement job from them, dining with them while he was meant to be investigating them for criminal offences, being insouciantly unaware of his own phone being hacked and wanting to have been a journalist when young (he'd never have made it on anything seen yesterday). There were suggestions women had been used to blackmail him; that he resigned over expenses.

And when Ms Fullbrook asked him whether he'd ever taken money from a paper in return for information, he threw his arms into the air, as in a Feydeau farce: "I can't believe you asked that!" And: "I can't let you get away with that! Taking money?" He was gasping; speechless; eyes bulging. Julian Huppert had observed mildly: "Other policemen have." Hayman cried something about his integrity and seemed on the point of scrabbling at his chest. The whole room was laughing – at, not with; scornful, down-the-rabbit-hole laughter at a figure who not long ago was defending 90 days of detention without charge. He was, in Keith Vaz's words: "More Clouseau than Columbo."

Hayman was following his successor, in front of the committee, the new head of counter terrorism John Yates. His Wonderland position was that he couldn't charge News International because they wouldn't give him the evidence to do so. He was relying on their co-operation. Which they withheld. The 11,000 pages of evidence (including that which showed Gordon Brown and George Osborne were hacked) remained unread in the Scotland Yard cellar.

Yates was thrashed and trashed by a brilliantly merciless chair. What sort of career can he expect now?

Keith Vaz dismissed him by saying: "In the view of the committee, your evidence was unconvincing." That to a senior policeman. "Please do not regard this as the end of the matter."

How much worse could it be? They may be planning to invoke the old sanction of summoning him to the bar of the House to be arraigned, harangued and humiliated in front a packed Commons. Avid for drama and novelty, I hope they do, but I'm not sure I'll be able to watch.

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