The Sketch: Out on court 73, the volleys were fast and furious

Paul Waugh
Monday 14 October 2013 07:39

The courts were immaculate, the marquee cool and the crowds heaving. All that was missing was strawberries and cream and glasses of Pimm's at £10 a pop. The summer may be nearly over, but a taste of Wimbledon came to the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday as the Hutton inquiry entered its second week.

Due to public and media demand, the inquiry has erected a 200-seat tent with wall-to-wall video screens so no one misses the thwack-thwock of action on court 73. SW19 may have Henman Hill, but this was Dingemans Dell, the crowds cheering every ace served up by the intrepid counsel to the inquiry, James Dingemans QC.

First on court, however, was Pam Teare, the MoD's director of news. Miss Teare ("tear" as in "teardrop") seemed to live up to her name as she took the witness box with moist eyes, coy voice and nervous manner. With her head cocked to the side, her kohl eyeliner and blond hair, she looked like Princess Diana opening her heart to Martin Bashir. She didn't quite say: "I adored Hoon, I adored him ..." but she could have.

The key question was why the MoD, notorious for its determination not to say anything about anything, suddenly turned into a candidate for a freedom of information award as it gave clues to the identity of Dr David Kelly.

Unfortunately for Miss Teare, Peter Knox, junior counsel for the inquiry, was no Martin Bashir. "Isn't it all a bit of a charade? You don't want to name a person directly but you do so indirectly?" Miss Teare denied the charge but stressed that the MoD had offered Dr Kelly a round-the-clock press officer and safe accommodation once the naming strategy was under way. Having released the hounds of the media, Miss Teare was proposing to give the fox a bolthole and a 24-hour helpline. The fox turned down the offer.

Then it was time for the main men's singles match featuring Mr Dingemans and Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's chief of staff and a man normally hidden from the public gaze. Tanned, curly haired and newly bearded, he looked like a cross between Robinson Crusoe and the Naked Rambler. Covering his modesty with nothing other than a few flimsy e-mails, he told the court he had indeed been conversing with nature at the height of the controversy, climbing in the Black Mountains in Wales. Mr Powell said that he "wasn't that close to this process" of naming Dr Kelly. But Mr Dingemans had a drop shot up his sleeve. Tom Kelly, Mr Blair's official spokesman and resident Walter Mitty expert, had written in an e-mail: "This is now a game of chicken with the Beeb. The only way they will shift is if they see the screw tightening." Mr Powell affected a lofty disdain at such coarse language. "You'll have to ask Tom Kelly about that," he said. "I will ask him," Mr Dingemans declared. The Dingemaniacs squealed with glee. Then, in true Wimbledon style, the rain came down.

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