Charlie Whelan says . . .
Don't believe it - "Fit for a king, or republican, Sinn Fein's Commons room"
Every so often, a journalist makes such a huge mistake that the best thing to do is own up, apologise and laugh it off. If, however, you have built up a reputation as an investigative hack, you ignore the mistake, get your colleague to write a piece rectifying the story, and carry on as if nothing has happened.
When David Hencke of the Guardian was shown round some expensive new offices by Derek Conway, the Tory chairman of the Commons accommodation committee, he was probably so delighted with the idea that they were for the Sinn Fein MPs that he didn't bother to check the facts. Why should the truth that the offices in question were actually for Tory MPs ruin a perfectly good story?
Hencke has a good reputation in Westminster - after all, he did once win scoop of the year for exposing the Geoffrey Robinson loan to Peter Mandelson, even though the story was first in Paul Routledge's book. Hencke's latest scoop was followed up by other papers in a big way, and the morning radio and TV bulletins also gave the story big licks. Right-wing Tories were wheeled out to complain about the IRA having the best views in London. But it soon emerged that the story was, as they say, a complete parcel of bollocks. The "most breathtakingly splendid office" was, in fact, a standard 11ft-by-11ft room shared with a secretary. The Guardian did not apologise, but its piece the next day putting the story right must have been one of the most embarrassing that the respected political editor, Michael White, has ever had to write. His loyalty to the paper cannot be questioned, but why he didn't insist that Hencke himself made a grovelling apology, only he knows.