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Home > Politics

Addicted to Hutton

The problem with the Hutton Inquiry is that it's unputdownable, writes Robert Katz.

19 September 2003

How wrong is it to take pleasure in the suffering of another? It is not wrong, I would suggest, to take pleasure in the evident physical suffering of a skinny Eton six-former being buggered by some low-brow Barbarian in leather chaps - if that's what you take pleasure in and the young toff is voluntarily enjoying the suffering.

It is wrong, I think, to enjoy the sight of great apes such as thoughtful Orang-Utan, depressed and psychotic behind the double glazing of a cage - if you have any fellow feeling for our close cousins. No one would put a human in a glass cage and poke fun at him. Would they?

Which brings me very neatly to the Hutton Inquiry. You can't watch it (unless you're lucky and queue for hours), you can't hear it (except as revoiced by a couple of third-rate thesps on Newsnight), but you can certainly read every last word of it on the excellent Hutton website: http://www.the-hutton-inquiry.org.uk.

I went there some weeks ago to check the name of the dog that found Dr Kelly and a million words later I'm still there. As entertainment it's probably not as morally inoffensive as, say, watching Andy Hamilton's latest creation - Trevor's World of Sport - in which Neil Pearson pokes fun at generous licence fee payers by underacting so hard it's practically mime. (Mind you, if you're working with some of the worst plots and punchlines ever written, what else can you do? Pearson turns in a performance as hypnotic as the panda I once saw slumped against the back wall of her cage crying big slow tears. It wasn't nice to watch, but it stuck in the mind.)

As entertainment it's also better and morally less corrupt than The Archers which I used to be in love with until Hutton came along and threw its garish plots about infidelity and horse-slashing into stark relief. In the real world Ambridge is inhabited by government weapons experts and ladies with sniffer dogs. Neither Andy Hamilton, nor, obviously, the Archers scriptwriters, will ever come close to the dark comedy and unstoppable tragedy of the Kelly affair.

Just the documents on the website are priceless, never mind the verbal evidence: veteran journalist Tom Mangold's sickeningly unctious emails to Dr Kelly; the chilling memos back and forth between the MOD; Jack Straw's pompous handwriting.

So where does the gnomon of truth cast its shadow on my ethical sundial here? Courtrooms and inquiry rooms are the theatres of our moral life and thanks to the Hutton website you can now take the Compleat Tragedy of Doctor Kelly to bed with you knowing that the denouement will be worth waiting for. Is it surprising to feel a twinge of guilt as you read Mrs Kelly's elegant, measured answers to the inquiry's counsel, giving as little away about her life with Dr Kelly, (a private thing which should never have been on any website), whilst masterfully building a case against her late husband's tormentors? Probably not, but once you start reading her testimony in full, you realise that the stenographers have caught something quite remarkable.

There has certainly been enough self-serving gush about Mrs Kelly's dignified evidence from journalists covering the inquiry to fill the English Channel, but what is remarkable is that no one has said what a cracking good read it is, and not just Mrs Kelly's evidence, which in itself says more about the lives of married couples than any number of plays and films.

As mentioned, my first taste of the Hutton Inquiry was the evidence of the dog handler who found Dr Kelly's body. I wanted to check the name of Brock, the sniffer dog simply because I was intrigued by QC Dingemans' charming desire to get the character and traits of the dog into the open for the benefit of Lord Hutton. I think Mr Dingemans likes dogs, but that is neither here nor there. What struck me was Brock's owner's description of finding the body. Brock is trained to find a body, come back to his owner and then lead her back to where the body is. In this case Brock was too shocked to lead his mistress back to the fateful tree and simply sat down and refused to budge. It almost made me cry.

In the chaos and adrenaline-fuelled urgency of the search the traumatised dog seemed to say everything that no one else could say: just nothing. Here was a workaholic scientist, but also a family man, worried about his job and his pension, worried, like all middle aged men from Baghdad to Bagshot, about his standing in the world, so harassed and depressed that he rehearsed his own last walk and then made sure the measures he took to end his life would be irreversible.

He chose to die under a tree in a lovely wood. Lines 22 to 25 of para. 26, day 6 of the hearing read as follows and are stuck in my mind:

Q. Did you see what Brock the dog had found?
A. Yes.
Q. And what was that?
A. The body of a gentleman sitting up against a tree.

That last line is practically a double pentameter, by the way, and this gentleman was Mrs Kelly's husband (in case anyone has missed the case and has no idea what I'm talking about).

So I return to my opening question: is it wrong to take pleasure in another's suffering? In its guise as literature I've enjoyed the Hutton Inquiry much better than, say, the last Will Self novel I read, and I'm not sure I want it to stop. Or at least, like most people I want enough truth to emerge for Mrs Kelly and her family to feel like their husband and father didn't die for exactly nothing and for this heartless government to writhe in agony for what it's done. Until then I'll be logging on every evening for the latest transcript. If anyone's guilty, I am, but the problem with Hutton is that it's unputdownable.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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