Category Archives: bureaucratic evasion

Bankers’ contemptuous response to defrauded jockeys


It is always reassuring when large organisations are unable to kick a story into the long grass, particularly when they use the oldest public relations tricks in the book.

The banking industry has failed dismally to end coverage of the revelation that some £200,000 had been stolen from jockeys in the UK. The money was withdrawn over the counter from cashiers, possibly using fraudulent documents.

In fact the banking industry’s response has had the opposite effect. Broadcasters and print journalists are now asking: If jockeys are being advised to abandon their High Street bank accounts, are any other bank customers safe.

It is almost certain to lead to some uncomfortable revelations about the scale of the problem.

Much of the credit for keeping the story in the public eye – it is now on the second day of widespread coverage, including a full page story in The Times – is due to Paul Struthers.

A veteran of racing and public relations who is now chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association, he has played a blinder for his members, speaking brilliantly and deploying intelligent and eloquent jockeys who have been victims.

But, the banks have only themselves to blame.

Rather than seeing this as a banking challenge, they approached the story as a public relations problem, using tactics beloved of all large organisations on the defensive.

The first aim is ensure that no individual from a company appears on the media to answer direct questions.

As more than one bank was involved in the alleged frauds, the banks could hide behind one of their joint organisations – Financial Fraud Action (FFA).

This is a tried and tested trick because industry wide bodies can’t talk about the actions of individual members – so any comments tend to be generalisations that are hard to challenge.

The next trick is to avoid appearing in person. A statement cannot be questioned or directly challenged.

So when Radio5 Live produced an item on the subject, the FFA did not appear directly –

The FFA’s statement was a classic of corporate deception.

“Banks take fraud extremely seriously and stopped most of all the attempted fraud last year. Fraudsters may try to use stolen or false documents to commit their crimes. Banks do have systems in place to prevent this.

The spate of crimes targeting jockeys suggests fraudsters may have gained access to data relating to these victims.

It is important that any organisation holding personal data take steps to ensure it is safeguarded.”


It is amazing how many corporate statements start with “we are taking xyz very seriously.” The fact that they are using this hack sentence from the beginner’s PR handbook actually shows they are not taking the subject seriously at all.

The next step – found in virtually every corporate statement – is to state that the problem is under control. So this statement says that “banks have systems in place.”

Then there is the subtle use of tenses. The statement says that “fraudsters may try to use stolen….” and that “the spate of crimes targeting jockeys suggests fraudsters may have gained access…..”

Using the word “may” makes it possible to leave ideas with the audience – in this case suggesting others may be responsible for the theft of information – while remaining unaccountable if the claim turns out to be inaccurate.

A third element of these statements is that they are drafted to ensure no institution or senior executive is identified or takes responsibility.

Finally these statements invariably end with a portentous general comment which adds up to nothing substantive. The comment that “it is important that any organisation holding personal data take steps to ensure it is safeguarded” is a meaningless truism.

If you have read my blogs, the use of these techniques will be no surprise.

All too often the technique works. But fortunately, in this case, the rather cleverer tactics of Mr Struthers are ensuring that the banks are losing control of the debate.


How Sir Philip Dilley misleads

I have always believed that it is not the big distortions that say everything about people with power  deceive us, but the little deceptions.

And this weekend we have had a classic of its kind with Sir Philip Dilley caught out in an apparently small distortion that is hugely damagin to him.

Sir Philip, the chairman of the Environment Agency, which is responsible for flood defences, stayed at his second home in Barbados rather than return home when the floods hit the north of the country over Christmas.

The Agency said he had stayed there because he had family connections in Barbados. But it is now clear his wife in fact comes from Jamaica which is some 1,200 miles away.

It is at least arguable if he could have done anything more useful had he been in London or indeed appeared in the flooded area – modern communications make it just as easy to lead a response from thousands of miles away as from close to hand.

But in the modern world, senior figures are means to appear on the site of the worst floods and show their support for those whose homes are under water.

It hardly helps when Sir Philip was in an exotic part of the world and his wife accused the press of “being out to destroy people” – this is an unwise statement when the lives of the victims of floods think their lives are being destroyed by the inaction of the Sir Philip’s organisation.

Worst of all was the original statement by the Environment Agency that Sir Philip had “been in Barbados where his family are from.” It later transpired that his wife is from Jamiaca which is 1,200 miles from Barbados.

Then Sir Philip opted for vagueness when he said that his wife was “from the Caribbean, we have a home there and I spent some time there over Christmas.”

Strange how they all thought they could get away with it. Perhaps they assumed journalists would concentrate on the main story and would not bother to follow up this angle.

Whatever the reason, this just shows how careful one has to be when looking at anything said by people in power. This episode is further evidence that we should never take their word for granted.




Southern Health’s integrity?

A review into Southern Health NHS Foundation has found that it failed to investigate more than 1,000 unexpected deaths and most other papers

The review, commissioned by NHS England and carried out by audit firm Mazars, was launched following the death of Connor Sparrowhawk at one of the trust’s treatment units in Oxford. He suffered an epileptic seizure and drowned in the bath – the coroner ruled the death had been preventable.

It is not for me to comment in this blog on the merits of the report but to look at the public relations techniques the Trust has used to respond – and to wonder whether their approach actually does their case more harm than good.

Southern Health’s statement – which has the smell of something drafted by the public relations department overseen by lawyers – is a classic response used by all bureaucracies facing similar challenges.

In some of my earlier blogs – under the bureaucratic evasion tag – I have traced the way these techniques are used. Here are two examples.

If you look at Southern Health’s statement (which is at the end of this blog) you will see that they follow the predictable path.

The strategy is always the same: stress the commitment to the highest standards; undermine the credibility of the report; say that improvements have already been implemented so the report is also out of date; and absolve individuals from responsibility by suggesting that the problem is to do with procedures.

Look at how the statement starts. In the first par, they say that “we want to avoid unnecessary anxiety amongst the people we support, their carers and families as their welfare is our priority.” It is a classic statement of the obvious that means nothing.

Then they move on to undermine the credibility of the report by saying that “there are serious concerns about the draft report’s interpretation of the evidence.”

This may or may not be true in this case – I would merely point out that this is also a hugely effective way of deflecting attention from the core comments of the report, and it would be more credible as a comment if it wasn’t used on almost every occasion.

The following paragraph is particularly interesting.

“We fully accept that our reporting processes following a patient death have not always been good enough. We have taken considerable measures to strengthen our investigation and learning from deaths including increased monitoring and scrutiny.”

Not another comment made by the Trust: “The outcome of the inquest evidenced that Connor’s death was preventable and, as a Trust, we have taken learning from this to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

This combines two public relations strategies. It accepts criticism of “reporting processes” – in other words accepting that procedures are flawed, but that individuals should have no responsibility.

And it says that “considerable measures” have been taken to improve matters – again a tried and tested response to make the report seem out of date.

Note too that the response is full of the vacuous “we.” It is not entirely clear who the “we” are.

There is no mention of any individual names in the response even though, according to at least one newspaper report, there was specific criticism of “a failure of leadership” under chief executive Katrina Perry.

Leadership is carried out by individuals not institutions yet the Trust’s response avoids any comment on personal responsibility or accountability.

The vacuous “we” is also a slight advance on the passive voice which is often used by management in this situation. Using the passive makes it easier to avoid linking an executive to an action – though using “we” with an active word can only be the most marginal of improvements.

I have no idea whether Southern Health’s defence is reasonable or credible. But I am certain that by using hack PR techniques and legalistic evasion makes their case sound less credible and plausible.


The Southern Health statement

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust said: “We would not usually comment on a leaked draft report. However, we want to avoid unnecessary anxiety amongst the people we support, their carers and families as their welfare is our priority.

“There are serious concerns about the draft report’s interpretation of the evidence. We fully accept that our reporting processes following a patient death have not always been good enough. We have taken considerable measures to strengthen our investigation and learning from deaths including increased monitoring and scrutiny.

“The review has not assessed the quality of care provided by the Trust. Instead it looked at the way in which the Trust recorded and investigated deaths of people with whom we had one or more contacts in the preceding 12 months. In almost all cases referred to in the report, the Trust was not the main provider of care.

“We would stress the draft report contains no evidence of more deaths than expected in the last four years of people with mental health needs or learning disabilities for the size and age of the population we serve.

“When the final report is published by NHS England we will review the recommendations and make any further changes necessary to ensure the processes through which we report, investigate and learn from deaths are of the highest possible standard.

“If you are directly affected by this issue, call this NHS number: 0300 003 0025.”

The real abuse of language Michael Gove is tackling

For the last couple of days the press has reported on a memo sent out by Michael Gove, Britain’s Lord Chancellor and a senior cabinet minister, instructing his civil servants how to write documents.

The coverage has focused on some of his stylistic orders such as the instruction not to use shortened forms such as “doesn’t” and “don’t” but to spell out the words in full – the full memo is at the end of this blog.

I don’t agree with all his grammatical idiosyncrasies but it is hard to criticise his desire to get civil servants to write with greater clarity.

In particular I noted one instruction which was hardly mentioned in the media coverage. Half way through the memo, Gove tells his bureaucrats to “use the active voice and the present tense as much as possible.”

Gove is highlighting a practice that the public sector – including for example the police, local government and health authorities – and big business are fond of using, particularly when they want to deceive us.

Those of you who read my blog will see the countless examples of this. Organisations use the passive in their statements, particularly when they have been criticised and want to dodge responsibility.

As I have noted many times before, the bureaucratic instinct is to use phrases like “it was decided” or “agreement was reached” rather than say Mr A decided or Mr A, Ms B and Mr C agreed.

Using the passive enables an organisation to avoid saying who has taken a particular decision and more importantly who might be accountable for a misguided policy or decision.

Gove should perhaps send a personal note to Alison Saunders the director of public prosecutions whose preference for sentences with passive verbs I identified in my blogs on the decision not to prosecute Lord Janner for child abuse.

Of course Saunders, like a significant number of the Lord Chancellor’s department, is a lawyer – a trade whose instinct is always to evade, avoid and deceive on behalf of their clients.

In another blog, I noted that neither they nor the police talk like normal people.

This excessive use of passive infects the whole public sector – but it would be wrong to excuse the private sector. Most recently I wrote about South Railways.

But if you have the energy to trawl through my earlier blogs you will find many other examples.

I will close with a story published in the Sunday Times last weekend – ironically on the very day that the article about Gove was written. This illustrates the scale of the task that Gove faces if he is to persuade bureaucrats to use the active form.

The story is about an 87-year-old man who is going to court to seek the right to kiss his dementia-stricken wife of 67 years when he visits her nursing home.

It would be improper for me to comment on the merits or otherwise of this case. But I did notice the comments of Derby Council, the authority involved in the case.

“Where a person lacks capacity to make a decision for themselves…any decisions made are done in the best interests of the adult following consultation with all parties involved, including family members… Where parties do not agree or the decision is complex, it is necessary for an application to be made to the Court of Protection. We are committed to supporting contact arrangements as set out in the court order.”

Why are so many sentences structured in the passive? This seems totally unnecessary in this case.

But, if I sat in the jury and heard a witness speak in such a convoluted way, I would find it very hard to trust that evidence.

When I started blogging a few months ago, I noted in one of my first blogs how the passive was used by bureaucrats to deceive us.

My view than was that we should “always doubt the integrity of those who use the passive a lot and be suspicious when sentences have no subject.”

Nothing I have heard or seen since causes me to change that opinion.

Michael Gove’s instructions

In correspondence, civil servants must make sure they have:

* Not written “I am sorry to hear”, but “I am sorry to read” instead.

* Not written “however” at the beginning of a sentence (or any words such as “therefore”, “yet”, “also”, “although”), but put it after the verb: “There are, however, many options”.

* Not used “doesn’t”, “don’t”, “aren’t”, and so on, but spelt out both words.

* Taken a warm tone and been very gracious in thanking people for their letters.

* Used the active voice and the present tense as much as possible: eg, “We are doing this”; “My department provides guidance”; “The evidence shows that…”.

* Even if the view is an opposing one, acknowledged the arguments while not yielding on the substance.

* Avoided “this” and “it” on their own, trying to write exactly what they are referring to in correspondence.

* Not been repetitive.

* Not used anything too pompous.

* Not written that they “met with” someone (just “met”).

Lies, damned lies and railway timetables

This is a classic example of how a company will dodge and evade responsibility for its own failings.

It is the story of the 7.29 am Brighton to London Victoria train service. There were a series of critical stories in the press when it failed to arrive on time for each of its 240 journeys last year. Southern Rail has responded to the criticism by adding three minutes to the journey time and removing one stop.

The statement issued by the company to justify its actions was a classic of its kind. A spokesman said: “These changes have been designed to improve performance across the Southern network, and particularly on the Brighton line, which is one of the busiest routes in the country.

“A small delay on this line can have serious knock-on effects leading to widespread delays, so re-timing some trains to leave earlier and altering some calling patterns will distribute trains on the line more evenly and allow more room to keep trains running on time.

“These new changes are designed to build on those we have already made which are working well, and we expect them to help to improve punctuality further.”

Look first at the way the spokesman makes a generalised comment rather than addresses the specific issue. It is typical of corporate evasion rule book – always start the answer with a broad policy statement rather than a specific answer.

Then note the claim that, even though the journey will be longer and there will be fewer stops, the changes are designed to improve performance.

So, meeting a later arrival time is defined as a greater punctuality. Look too at the evasive phrasing – they use “re-timing” when they mean extending the journey time and changing “calling patterns” instead of cancelling stops.

Do they really think that they fool anyone with this linguistic corruption.

But, as always, most significant is the use of the passive in the first sentence. “These changes have been designed…”

The changes must have been decided by a group of individuals and one person must have taken ultimate responsibility for. However by using the passive, the spokesman can evade and avoid having to say who decided on the changes.

Southern Rail’s response was pretty standard public relations – it says everything about it that it cannot be bothered to make anything more than an off-the-peg response to changes which will have a major impact on their customers.

More sex abuse evasion

Today produced further evidence of the way Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire police are evading and avoiding key questions on sex abuse by their use of language.

This morning the Sheffield Star published a story which revealed that police and council officials in Rotherham were warned that gangs of men were grooming children for sex as long ago as 2003 but failed to act.

The two bodies were sent a list of suspects along with a report that linked drug-dealing and ‘significant’ child abuse. The warnings were repeated in another report three years later, but no action was taken against the gangs trafficking children.

It of course defies belief that it required a Freedom of Information request to gain access to these reports, but my interest is in the responses.

This followed traditional evade and avoid tactics, both in the use of ambiguous language and secondly in making generalised statements of current policy that don’t address the issues raised by the newly published documents.

Rotherham Council’s response to the BBC is a classic: the council said it had been “unable to find any reference to the documents being formally considered” by the authority.

“Unable to find” doesn’t mean they don’t exist and doesn’t really tell us how hard they looked. What exactly constitutes “a reference”? As for “formally considered;” this is not a denial that they were informally considered; nor does it tell us where the line between the two types of consideration is set.

As for the rest of what the two bodies said, they just state current policy and makes not attempt to answer issues raised by the Sheffield Star.

Make your own judgements:

A spokesman for the council said today: ‘Child sexual exploitation is a challenge nationally and locally as we have previously stated. It is a dreadful and sad crime. Sheffield has been publishing annual reports for a number of years detailing this and how the Sheffield Safeguarding Children’s Board were tackling the issue. We continue to use every tool at our disposal to tackle child sexual exploitation and will never be complacent.”

A South Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “There has been a significant increase in the number of police officers and staff dedicated to tackling child sexual exploitation and we are absolutely committed to achieving justice, stopping the harm and preventing future offending.

“We have centralised the team of officers involved in ongoing investigations into non-recent allegations of sexual exploitation, some of these investigations are large scale and involve large numbers of potential victims and potential offenders.”

Passing the buck on Lord Janner?

Another weekend – and yet more evasion and obfuscation from most of those who could/should have been involved in bringing Lord Janner to trial on charges of child sex abuse.

I have already examined the language used by Alison Saunders, who is in charge of the English and Welsh prosecution service (CPS)

But now more people are coming out of the woodwork; and the language used by those involved is revealing – this doesn’t of course prove who is telling the truth but it is interesting that some involved are keen to speak clearly while others are not.

I am grateful to The Sunday Times, which spoke to three crown prosecutors who were among those accused of missing chances to bring Janner to court.

Kate Carty said: “I have no knowledge of it… I am not able to comment further.” Martin Howard was “aware” of an investigation into Janner but said that the police “never spoke to me about it, or referred anything direct to me.” Janet Meek said that “the decision not to prosecute was not taken by me” and cited the Official Secrets Act as a reason not to discuss the case.

Carty: “I have no knowledge of it” – these are the words of a person being excessively defensive in their use of language – it leaves a nice escape route if something else emerges.

Howard: “referred anything direct” – of course that leaves him a let out if something was “indirect.” Again the structure of words seems strange and defensive.

Meek: Her use of the Official Secrets Act. Well, I am not a lawyer but the Sunday Times found a CPS prosecutor who doubted if this was an appropriate use of the Act.

Then there is her use of multiple nots and particularly her use of the passive in saying that “the decision not to prosecute was not taken by me.” Interestingly this suggests that a decision not to prosecute was taken by someone. And it is intriguing that she hides herself at the end of the sentence rather than saying: “I did not take….” – this is the natural way to formulate a sentence.

The way the prosecutors speak is a contrast to the language of those on the other side of the argument. Former detective Kelvyn Ashby said that he was not allowed to arrest an MP. His words are clear and precise and use natural forms of the English sentence construction

The same applies to Peter Wanless’s letter to Saunders and the comments of the Labour MP Simon Danczuk as they added to the pressure for more information to be released about who was responsible for the decision not to prosecute Janner.

I know which evidence I would find more compelling if I was sitting in the jury.

As the Daily Mail so aptly put it on Saturday: “Janner: The stench grows.”

Why dont lawyers and the police speak like normal people?

Not long after pointing out the inadequacies (intenational or otherwise) of Alison Saunders’s grasp of the English language, I came on a new example of the way lawyers and police makes themselves sound totally implausible.

A woman was charged over her role in a row over a garden fence. The case (the details don’t really matter) was thrown out after 15 minutes. Yet the police and Crown Prosecution Service went into the most extraordinary verbal contortions to defend their actions.

I hope you find them as unconvincing as I did.

Defending the decision to pursue the case, a CPS spokesman said: “The allegation was that the damage to the tree went well beyond pruning and that it had been hacked back to little more than a stump. The compliant was the result of an ongoing and acrimonious dispute between the neighbours.

“A caution was not available as no admissions to the offending were made and so the police took the decision to charge.”

Note the tedious obsessive use of the passive. This makes the comments sound defensive and evasive – they would have been so much clearer and sounded honest if they had been delivered in sentences with subjects, verbs and objects.

And the South Yorkshire police were no better. A spokesman said about the case:  “A thorough investigation was conducted that resulted in a woman being charged and brought before the courts.”

Why couldn’t he just say: “We investigated the incident thoroughly, decided to charge Ms Gaynor (the woman involved) and the CPS brought the case before the courts.”

Why do lawyers and the police so often use language that makes them sound so defensive and which suggests they have something to

The evasive language of Alison Saunders

Have you noticed how Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions – head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the government prosecutors in England and Wales – resorts to the passive and sentences starting with “it” when she is under pressure?

She has done this recently in statements put out by her office when there is bad news to respond to.

I know that lawyers, more than most, have a tendency to cower behind the passive sense when it suits them.

I am not  certain whether this is instinctive, a planned tendency to evade making a direct comment – or just because they have the same illiteracy levels as other trades (including journalism).

I find it particularly hard to assess the CPS because, if my memory is correct, commenting  every five seconds is relatively new. In the past they said nothing at all; now, when it suits them, they say as little as possible at great length.

Look at their website and pick some examples (

Saunders herself was very keen to associate herself with the decision to conuslt on how to give greater assistance to those giving evidence in court. Her statement used the active a lot – and sentences had subjects.

Look too at the positive language of Anamarie Coomansingh, Senior District Crown Prosecutor from West Midlands Crown Prosecution Service’s Complex Casework Unit, after the successful prosecution of child abuser Simon Harris.

“When he was no longer able to teach as a result of his abuse of young victims in Devon, he turned his attention to Kenya where he set up a charity to work with children. Many of these boys in Kenya were illiterate, homeless and extremely vulnerable. Aware of these facts, he callously took advantage of their circumstances and their surroundings to sexually abuse them.

So you see CPS lawyers can be positive when they have a victory.

But look what happens when they are on the defensive. One example is the de Freitas case – – for the full details.

Saunders was keen to say this “was one of the most difficult I have seen,” as she did when questioned on assisted suicide. She said:  “This is, of course, an emotive subject on which many hold strong views and these cases present difficult and complex decisions for prosecutors. Each case must be considered on its own facts and merits and prosecutors must weigh each public interest factor depending on the circumstances of each case and go on to make an overall assessment.”

Surely she was appointed became DPP was because she had the capacity to take the difficult decisions, not to tell us they were difficult.

And note how, in the last two sentences, those who have to take the decisions are put well down the sentences rather than in their natural position at the start.

And so to this week; it has not been a good one for Saunders or the CPS. The media are damning their decisions on operation Elveden (journalists accused of making illegal payments to public officials) and her decision not to prosecute the alleged paedophile Lord Janner.

Lawyers tend to use a lot more words than real people. Saunders is far from concise in her statement justifying the decision to drop the Operation Elvedon prosecutions.

For example (and remember this is a considered statement), she wrote:

“In these circumstances the police inquiry was inevitable as was the subsequent duty on prosecutors to decide if the evidence was sufficient to prosecute. The CPS made every effort to provide advice on charges as quickly as possible, and the majority of the decisions made by the CPS in relation to these cases were completed within three months of a file being received from the Metropolitan Police.”

She could have said (you can drop the “In these circumstances” because it is blindingly obvious – and I have not even tried to put in active verbs). And of course, if you are providing advice “as quickly as possible” it is obvious you are making every effort. She also say “in relation to these cases” – what other cases could she be talking about.

She could have said:

“The police inquiry was inevitable and prosecutors had a duty to decide if the evidence justified a prosecution. The CPS advised on charges as quickly as possible and took most decisions on prosecution within three months of receiving a Metropolitan Police file.”

Without even thinking it is possible to cut 20% off one paragraph.  Saunders clearly does not believe in the clarity that comes from brevity.

And then there is the Janner case. Her extremely long statement used more words than necessary. Just a tweak of the grammar would have delivered much greater clarity.

Note too how she does not name the individuals responsible for failing to prosecute Janner in 1991, 2002 and 2007.

Take this paragraph.

“In relation to the other three previous investigations, the CPS also now considers that the evidential test was passed. It follows that the CPS judges that mistakes were made in the decision making at the time by both the Leicestershire police in 2002 and the CPS in 1991 and 2007. Lord Janner should have been prosecuted in relation to those complaints.

This is a wonderful phrase; “mistakes were made in the decision making at the time.” Mistakes dont make themselves – someone makes mistakes. “Decision making” is gloriously vague – it doesn’t say where the buck stopped – a typical bureaucrat’s approach to blame a process rather than an individual.

Let’s look at another sentence: “It is a matter of deep regret that the decisions in relation to the previous investigations were as they were.”

She starts with “it is a matter of deep regret.” Why cant she just say “I regret” rather depersonalising it. “Decisions in relation to the previous investingations” – all the words except the first one were unnecessary. “The decisions… were as they were.”Perish the thought that they should say the word “wrong” even though that was the clear implication of her statement. Nor does she state specifically who took those decisions.

Why cant she just say; “I regret the fact that the CPS and Metropolitan Police took decisions that I believe to be wrong.”

She does indeed get to use the “wrong” word  when she says it is “of obvious and particular concern that such proceedings did not take place as a result of what the CPS now consider to be wrong decisions.”

Firstly, if something is obvious, you dont need to state it is obvious.

Secondly there is no specific link to individuals – you can work it out of course (institutions if not people) but why not state what has happened in a straightforward way.

I would though make this point.

The modern fashion is for CPS lawyers to appear in public – and their presentation is often superb.

But they need proper media training to make the contents of what they say more credible when they are explaining a loss or a setback.

The legal trade shies away from clarity and brevity when this happens. That may be fine in the courts but not in the real world – and when they talk in this way, they seem as credible as a dodgy witness.

Valueless statements

Politicians, civil servants and businesses have become increasingly attracted to the idea of issuing a statement on a subject rather than sending someone to debate it.

It may be just me, but I am pretty certain the use of these statements has become more prevelant and the content even more banal than when this tactic started to be used extensively, I guess about 15 years ago.

There is some logic to sending out a comment, particularly when there are simply not enough people to meet the demands of 24 hour news. And, when official statements were issued at the end of a discussion, as used to be the practice, it means that the official body had the last word.

It was a perfect way for someone in power to evade and avoid debate and get the final word.

There was a classic case today on Radio 5 Live which did a piece on the amount of financial help received if a child was seriously ill in hospital. The government pays disability living allowance (DLA) for seriously ill children who live at home, but removes it after nearly three months for those who are in hospital.

One carer and Amanda Batten from Contact a Family spoke and then there was the inevitable statement from the Department of Local Government.

“DLA is paid to help people who are unable to walk or virtually unable to walk or to do things like wash and dress themselves. After a child is looked after free of charge in hospital for nearly three months, we put payment of DLA on hold because their needs are met by the NHS. Children receive DLA for longer than just over 16s after being admitted to hospital because we recognise they need longer to adjust.”

Rather than that being the end of the discussion, the excellent Peter Allen asked Amanda Batten to respond which she did by pointing out omissions in the statement.

The DLG statement was a classic non-comment generalisation on an issue that really deserved better. Whoever drafted those words probably thought they were doing their job by issuing the statement. In fact they were damaging thwir own case by appearing evasive – a classic case of bureaucratic deceit.

But I would like to end on an opimistic note. I think I notice a trend, with broadcasters starting to treat these non-comments less respectfully and allowing more time for them to be challenged. We too should note when organisations duck a debate and treat them with the contempt they deserve where they try to duck a legitimate debate.