Sketch: Yates and Bryant sent to the headmaster's office

The committee room had much of the feeling of a headmaster's office.
The committee room had much of the feeling of a headmaster's office.

Schoolyard bickering prevailed as wide-eyed John Yates and bully boy Chris Bryant pointed fingers at one another.

By Hannah Brenton

It's harder to abuse someone to their face than behind their back. The guilt, the doubt, the look in their eyes: all combine to leave you feeling. deflated.

So Chris Bryant found today, when he told the home affairs select committee that acting commissioner John Yates had given them "disingenuous" testimony in the past. Yates sat passively in the room, barely flinching at each accusation.

The committee room had much of the feeling of a headmaster's office, where two schoolboys have been called before the staff to explain themselves, both pointing the finger at one another.

"It was disingenuous in the extreme to say there were only a few victims [of phone-hacking] because how could he have possibly known, he hadn't bothered to look at the evidence," Bryant claimed.

Sat at the back, Yates' foot twitched and he looked down at his perfectly organised and meticulously highlighted notes.

There was even a good old school food fight as Mr Bryant attacked Yates and other Met officers for having lunch with News International employees. "There is a real danger that the Met might be perceived to be in collusion with the newspapers we're talking about," he intoned.

Committee chair Keith Vaz asked Bryant if he had met Yates. "He wrote me a letter last year, threatening to sue me, and at the bottom said 'If you want to meet, then that would be fine'," Bryant said.

He said he had not taken up the offer. Yates managed a wry smile of discomfort and went back to his notes.

"Well you might bump into him in the corridor outside, you never know," Vaz said.

"What joy, what bliss," Bryant retorted scathingly.

Minutes later the acting commissioner was called forward, brushing shoulders with Bryant as he made his way to the witness table. Both men appeared to go momentarily blind. Fixated by a point in the distance, they passed each other without a word of acknowledgement.

Bryant stared determinedly at a chair, firmly ignoring the man whose actions he'd spent half an hour berating. Once a suitable distance had been re-established, the acting commissioner was quick to push back against the claims against him.

"Mr Bryant in the adjournment debate made some very serious allegations against my integrity," Yates said. "While he has not gone as far as I'd like in terms of apologising, he's clearly conceded that he was wrong around the issue of advice."

Unlike the passive reactions of Yates during his testimony, Bryant's head frequently jerked violently back and forth in dissent and once or twice a gasp of incredulity escaped him.

"I'm here to protect my position," said Yates.

Tom Watson, sitting at the side, shared a smirk with Bryant - the two Labour men exchanged a number of pointed looks during Yates' testimony.

And the food fight continued to rage.

"If you look at the broad context of who I've dined with, I've probably dined more with the Guardian than with News International," the acting commissioner said.

But, as Vaz had predicted, the truly awkward schoolyard moment came in the corridor.

As the committee adjourned, Mr Bryant made a bold stride for the door, while Mr Yates collected his colleagues. When he emerged, Mr Yates stood mere feet away as the MP spoke loudly to journalists.

The police chief looked briefly in Mr Bryant's direction, attempted a smile of acknowledgement and then appeared to become fascinated by his feet.


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