I know John Yates well enough to consider him shrewd, decent and honest. I would have thought him the last person to be unconvincing before a Select Committee, but for the first and quite probably last time in find myself in complete agreement with Keith Vaz. (Incidentally, do you agree that having Mr. Vaz in charge of an investigation into corruption is at the same time astounding and brilliant?)
I had expected AC Yates to have been firm, eloquent and impressive. What we saw and heard was none of these things, so I have tried to work out why. The alternatives posed by most as this incredible tale has unfolded have been the traditional choice of 'cock-up or conspiracy'. But finding the former out of the question and the latter very difficult to believe of him, I have looked for a third way, and it just might be - and I sincerely hope I am correct - that it is a combination of the man's decency and the current Met culture of apology without blame, to which I have alluded in past blog posts.
To understand this possibility one must take a realistic view of how these investigations, even the most high-profile ones, are conducted. Very few of the operational decisions are made by the figurehead ACPO officer, even 'Yates of the Yard'. Instead they are reported to by junior officers on all but the highest-level strategic issues. They must trust their officers, of course, and will question and probe to ensure they are happy with progress, but they cannot and do not look at every document, every statement, themselves. If they did, why have the junior officers anyway? Given the back-covering environment in which police officers are forced these days to operate it is inconceivable that the decisions and their supporting reasons are not documented. Every investigation has a policy log, and when the officers who surely advised John Yates that there was no further mileage in the hacking inquiry did so, their reasoning would have been there in black and white, or at least an email or several.
So when he said in his weekend interview that he shouldn't, as an Assistant Commissioner, be expected to sift through two binbags of evidence himself, he was quite correct. But somebody should have, and I suspect somebody else decided not to, or at least not to ask a few Detective Constables to do so.He or she then took a punt, and assured the Boss that there was nothing in there. If John Yates is to appear convincing - for his own sake and that of the Met he must – he will have to bite the bullet and explain, in detail, naming names and producing documents. However distasteful this may be to a man of integrity and who treats his juniors with the utmost respect, it is the only way forward; in such dirty fashion lies the only way properly to come clean.
Because the blame cannot be pushed to News International, no matter how obstructive or uncooperative they might have been. John Yates is good enough a copper to know that, surprise surprise, criminals tend not to cooperate, not to confess and not to hand over evidence on a plate. And never two binbags full. They lie, cheat, hide and destroy their tracks and it is up to the investigators, despite all this, to find the proof and make sure justice is served. The notion that somehow News International ought to be above that, particularly in the context of this whole affair, is, I am afraid, as naïve as it is unconvincing.