Mills and McCartney . . . must I take sides?

The posh papers are never very helpful on these occasions, offering a mixture of world-weary cynicis

I have been mugging up on the Heather Mills/Paul McCartney divorce. This is not a subject on which, if one is to be a fully participating member of our vibrant 21st-century democracy, it is possible to be neutral, or even apathetic. Even my wife wants to know which side I'm on. There is no equivalent of the Lib Dems to vote for and, as a press commentator, I can't refuse to attend the polling station.

The latest chapter in this saga began on 18 October when the Daily Mail published leaked court papers detailing the Mills case against McCartney. He had, she alleged, got drunk and stoned, beaten her up, stabbed her with a broken wine glass, stopped her breastfeeding and forbidden her to use an antique bedpan. These, wrote Deborah Orr in the Independent, sounded like "fairly commonplace symptoms of a marriage that wasn't working (and even . . . of one that's perfectly all right, really)". Which gives us an interesting insight into the family life that Orr shares with the novelist Will Self, but not much more.

The posh papers - though they now devote almost as much space as the red tops to celebrity divorces - are never helpful on these occasions, I find. They offer a mixture of world-weary cynicism and high-minded lamentation. One is reminded of Malcolm Muggeridge's celebrated spoof of a typical Guardian editorial: "It is greatly to be hoped that wiser counsels will yet prevail." Thus, the Times's Jane Shilling, drawing on the wisdom of John Donne, wrote that "the McCartney break-up diminishes us all". It had "no redemptive quality".

But I'm not looking for redemption, only an opinion. Here, the more downmarket papers provide, if the McCartneys will forgive the term, more red meat. The trouble is, there's so much of it to get through.

After the initial leak - which, the Guardian prissily pointed out, breached the Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Act 1926 - further allegations came thick and fast from both sides. Sir Paul, the Mail assured us, was "maintaining a dignified silence". However, like so many celebrities and politicians, he has amazingly garrulous friends.

He was "incandescent with rage" and "suffering deeply", the friends are reported to have claimed. He had needed to visit a psychiatrist and only the children of his first marriage had saved him from a breakdown.

Next came Mills's friends. She was in "floods of tears" and her lawyer, Anthony Julius, was "frothing with rage" (possibly a more serious condition than being incandescent). McCartney was trying to get custody of their daughter, Beatrice. He had allegedly beaten up his first wife, Linda.

Your turn, Macca. Heather smashed chairs, threw ornaments, and aimed a bottle of ketchup at her husband, "aides" alleged to the News of the World.

Lots of anger, lots of violence, and vegetarian food all over the carpet, but I still need an opinion. Piers Morgan, a former Daily Mirror editor, had originally introduced Mills - "this vengeful, shameless, ghastly woman" - to McCartney and for that he was now "filled with guilt and sorrow", he wrote in the Mail. On the other hand, Lisa Norris, also in the Mail, reported that McCartney had stormed out of a press conference she had organised while Mills - "a strong, attractive woman" - had "discreetly mouthed" apologies. And Fergus Shanahan in the Sun explained that McCartney married her mainly because "she was terrific in bed" and just went off her "once the bedroom fireworks had dimmed". Damning evidence, I thought; all men are bastards, as a red-top male columnist should know.

In the Mirror, however, Fiona Phillips reported that McCartney had once given her a cup of tea. Well, Heather Mills once gave me coffee in a plastic cup. No, not her, but a namesake who was a colleague on the Independent, and now works for Private Eye. She alleged in the Mail on Sunday that Mills 1 tried to further her TV career by claiming authorship of pieces written by Mills 2.

That decided me. The coffee wasn't much cop, but Mills 2 had honestly warned me it wouldn't be, thus proving, in red-top commentators' logic, that she is and always will be a trustworthy woman. Then I looked back to Saturday's Mail and saw that Mills (Mills 1, that is) reckons she got all her rows with McCartney on digital camcorder.

I think I shall wait to see the films. "The public will make up their own mind," wrote Richard Stott in the Sunday Mirror. I had been under the impression that judges adjudicated in divorce cases, but I am clearly mistaken. The proper end of this newspaper feeding frenzy is for Mills and McCartney to post all their evidence on the web, and then to allow the populace to vote, Big Brother-style, on who scoops the jackpot. I promise to have made up my mind by then.

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