Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Second Time Round, He Came to Shop His Mates

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Second Time Round, He Came to Shop His Mates

Article excerpt


THE ABILITY of the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, to get people's backs up is extraordinary. It is his trademark mixture of sanctimonious delivery, rank evasion and an air of being vastly pleased with himself for no discernible reason.

As a lawyer, Mr Hoon likes nothing so much as trading parries with his questioner. In Jeremy Gompertz, QC for the Kelly family, he met his match. Mr Gompertz is one of those barristers who loves the theatre of his job just a bit too much.

It resulted in exchanges like: Mr Hoon - "With the greatest respect that is a very bad point."

Mr Gompertz - "Well I don't seem to be doing very well, do I?"

An hour and of this and you wished a plague on both their smug houses. Mr Hoon has been recalled by Lord Hutton because his first body of evidence - in essence "not me, guv," has not been deemed satisfactory.

The Defence Secretary thinks that saying how complex things are is a substitute for answering the question. On the subject of who authorised the naming of Dr Kelly, he said that there was "no strategy" to name Dr Kelly.

Very well then, who authorised the procedure? "There was no procedure."

Neither, according to Mr Hoon, was there a decision, a plan, an intention to name the weapons inspector. Yet someone in his department had ended up doing just that in response to questions from journalists. The man is a walking omission.

Mr Gompertz was delivering his questions through gritted teeth by this stage, his contempt for the Defence Secretary filling the room. "None the less Dr Kelly's name was leaked," hissed the barrister. "Not by me," shot back Mr Hoon. But the embattled Defence Secretary had a loaded weapon concealed up the arm of his navy serge suit. It was, on his account, Alastair Campbell who had introduced the idea that the MoD should seek to get a "plea bargain," out of Dr Kelly.

Aha. So Mr Hoon is not here to say "not me, guv" all over again. …

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