EARLY this week, as the country awaited the publication of the Hutton Report, I amused myself by contemplating the likely response of Ray Fleming to the various verdicts open to the learned judge whose words were awaited with bated breath already. I concluded that if the verdict went against the Prime Minister Mr Fleming's reaction, like that of the more hysterical sections of the popular press, would be a demand for Blair's instant resignation and an outburst of of self righteous political obituaries already waiting on the word processors of Fleet Street, Canary Wharf and the Paseo Mallorca. If on the other hand, Tony Blair and his associates were cleared of lying to all and sundry the only course open to his critics would be to cry foul, off side and monkey business and to creep on to the pitch under cover of darkness and shift the goal posts. The trick, if it could be pulled off, would be to pay fulsome tribute to Lord Hutton's impartiality and skills in jurisprudence while implying that he was in some way ignorant of the questions he was being asked or had unaccountably gone off his rocker. I take no great pleasure in the fact that Ray Fleming slipped into the latter camp. But neither, I must admit, was I surprised.
Lord Hutton's brief happily illustrated by the picture at the head of Mr Fleming's Looking Around in Thursday's Daily Bulletin was to conduct an enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly CMG. It was not to enquire why Britain went to war with Iraq any more that it was to decide whether Britain should vote on the adoption of the Euro or whether the Flat Earth Society should receive a lottery grant to help it in imparting its beliefs. The difficulty of challenging this fact has led Mr Fleming and others into nitpicking outbursts they will surely come to regret. Michael Howard,in the House of Commons missed the opportunity of gracefully accepting the Hutton Report and instead presented the undignified spectacle of a thwarted politician scraping the bottom of the barrel in a desperate attempt to uncover a scap of DNA to support his case. For me the most disappointing part of Mr Flemings's argument was his support for Andrew Gilligan. After conceding that perhaps it was right Gilligan should have come in for Lord Hutton's heaviest criticism Mr Fleming remarks but we should not forget that Mr Gilligan is an investigative journalist whose job is to unearth facts that some would prefer left uncovered. What absolute twaddle! Every journalist is investigative. Every journalist has been approached by someone who wishes facts to be suppressed, occasionally underlining their desires with a cheque book. There is one criteria above all by which journalists stand to be judged: are their facts accurate and did they lean over backwards to check them? Mr Gilligan, who started the whole sorry affair which led to the suicide of Dr Kelly, failed that criteria.