John Street’s Diary

Written By: John Street
Published: April 21, 2017 Last modified: April 21, 2017

That’s my story
In Northern Ireland, the ‘Stakeknife affair’ is getting murkier, with ongoing questions over Pamela Atchison’s role in a decision not to prosecute an alleged IRA spy for perjury. Atchison was appointed deputy director of the Public Prosecutions Service (PPS) in 2012, and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on her part. The agent, codenamed Stakeknife, is accused of involvement in up to 50 murders during the Troubles. He has been named as former West Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci. In 2006 Atchison was one of a number of PPS lawyers who decided not to prosecute Scappaticci. Her former boss, Barra McGrory QC, told the BBC’s Panorama he could not comment on ‘personnel matters’ when questioned about her role. But it is understood that last summer she was asked to take a period of ‘gardening leave’ while the perjury decision was reviewed. Her extended leave lasted until her retirement at the end of March, in line with her contract. In a statement on behalf of Atchison, her legal representative said: ‘Our client, who has had an exemplary and unimpeachable record as a prosecutor, has at all times acted appropriately and responsibly in relation to this matter. She would welcome the opportunity to clarify her role but is constrained by current circumstances. She is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to explain her involvement in this matter during the Operation Kenova inquiry.’ In 2015 McGrory said he had ‘serious concerns’ about the decision not to proceed with the perjury prosecution. He said: ‘Having reviewed all the available evidence I consider that the original decision did not take into account relevant considerations and also took into account irrelevant factors.’ The prosecution for perjury did not go ahead because Mr Scappaticci was expected to have a defence that his life was at risk. In an unsuccessful case brought against the government, Scapaticci signed a sworn affidavit testifying he had not been an agent. Subsequently a former Army officer, Ian Hurst, complained that Scapaticci had committed perjury. The handling of the perjury complaint is being examined by a team of detectives led by Bedfordshire Chief Constable Jon Boutcher. The view in Stormont is that it is an issue which will not conveniently go away..

Further to fly
Given all her other woes, it is a shame Theresa May had to charter a plane for her recent trip to the Middle East as Prince Charles had booked the official RAF jet. The PM flew on a Boeing 757 to Jordan and Saudi Arabia for her three-day visit, while the prince travelled in Europe on the RAF Voyager, an Airbus 330 on which about £10m was spent refitting for royals and ministers. Clarence House said the Prince of Wales’ and Duchess of Cornwall’s tour was booked before the PM’s trip. The prince, who stopped in Austria, Romania and Italy during the nine-day tour, was joined by his personal doctor, an artist to capture scenic vistas, and a hairdresser for the duchess. There were also senior members of their household, embassy officials from the countries visited, government ministers, British press and RAF ground crew onboard. The Queen gets priority to use the plane, followed by Prince Charles. The PM is then third in line, before other government ministers, who can also use it for official business. So that’s OK then. When the refit took place under previous premier David Cameron, the government said it would save the taxpayer £775,000 a year on the cost of private charters and could still be used for its primary job of air-to-air refuelling.

Two teenagers
Novelist Julian Barnes writes that a senior Tory once told him that Boris Johnson thoughtDavid Cameron was a lightweight and Cameron saw Johnson as a loose cannon.
The author added: ‘The trouble is, they’re both right.’
Outrageous
Margate’s Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (QEQM) hospital has rearranged rotas in anticipation of doctor shortages due to Treasury tax changes. East Kent Hospitals fears locums will refuse work because of a drop in pay of 20% when tax and national insurance was deducted at source this month. The Health Service Journal described the NHS as being in a ‘Mexican standoff’ with staff over the new tax rules, with other hospitals potentially affected. Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said: ‘We are seeing the result of years of poor workforce planning being borne out. Locums are an important part of the NHS workforce but cannot provide a solution to long-term gaps in the NHS workforce. Hospitals are increasingly relying on locums as they are unable to attract staff to take up full-time posts, or cannot advertise for full-time positions due to funding pressures. We need to urgently address the working conditions, including unmanageable workloads, which are causing staff shortages across the health service, particularly in areas such as emergency and acute medicine.’ Signs of things to come?

A most peculiar man
Former top diplomat Sir John Fretwell, who has died aged 86, was the grandson of coal-miners but came to represent the laid-back style of the Foreign Office during a period of global upheaval. Posted to Moscow in 1959, in the run-up to the Cuba missile crisis and the building of the Berlin Wall, he described Nikita Khrushchev as ‘cuddly, podgy and jovial’. He later complained: ‘Compared to Peking, Moscow was incredibly dull visually. Shopping was primitive. I don’t know how the wives put up with it.’

Slip slidin’ away
ICM’s regular poll has topline figures of CON 43%(-2), LAB 25%(-1), LDEM 11%(+2), UKIP 11%(+1), GRN 4%(nc). The 25% for Labour equals the lowest in the ICM/Guardian series of polls, previously reached during the nadir of Gordon Brown’s government in 2009. Anthony Wells of ukpollingreport adds: ‘Looking ahead to the Brexit negotiations ICM also tested out some of the compromises that Theresa May may have to make in the years ahead: By 48% to 28% people said they would be happy to give EU citizens preferential treatment compared to non-EU nationals when coming to work in Britain. People were also happy to accept, by 54% to 29%, continued freedom of movement during a transitional period. By 47% to 34% people said it would be not be acceptable to continue to follow ECJ rulings during a transitional period (though given the widespread confusion between the European Court and European Court of Human Rights I do ponder how many thought this was a human rights question) The trickiest bits were, however, on spending – all three different financial settlements that ICM tested were rejected by the public: only 33% thought it would be acceptable to pay a £3bn “exit fee”, only 15% thought a £10bn fee would be acceptable, only 10% thought a £20bn “exit fee” would be acceptable. How and if the government manage to sell the financial settlement part of Brexit to the public is going to be interesting…’

She moves on
Paul Salveson blogs: ‘Leonora Carrington, one of Lancashire’s most remarkable figures of the 20th century, was born near Chorley on April 6th 1917. I doubt that there will be celebrations on the streets of her native town, which she left at the earliest possible opportunity. Or more to the point, she left her highly privileged home as quickly as she could, to live the life of a revolutionary bohemian figure, lover of Max Ernst, pioneer of the women’s movement (in Mexico) and a key figure in the inter-war surrealist movement. I like to imagine her as a young girl cycling down to Euxton Junction to see what was on the up Royal Scot, giving coy waves to the footplate crews. Or maybe not so coy – she wasn’t exactly a shrinking violet.’

About John Street

John Street is Tribune’s diary columnist.