On Sunday I posted THIS story which contained a transcript of an interview between Sunday Times journalist Isabel Oakeshott and Oliver Letwin. Isabel's STORY was based on Oliver Letwin supposedly saying that there would be "no limits" to private sector input into the NHS. After CCHQ became aware of the story they issued a complete transcript of the interview which I reprinted. Nowhere was the phrase "no limits" to be found. This had the dual effect of suppressing an embarrassing story and making Isabel Oakeshott's story look dodgy to say the least.
On Tuesday, Isabel phoned me to ask if I would mind listening to her tape of the interview as she felt that my calling her story "preposterous" was highly damaging to her reputation and that CCHQ's transcript was not accurate. I met her in Bournemouth and listened to the relevant part ofthe interview. In fact I listened to it five or six times. Isabel was adamant and convinced that she could hear Oliver uttering words. I wasn't. I could hear that he said something, but it sounded more like a series on 'Nos'. I could not hear the word 'limits'.
But I was troubled. Isabel seemed a genuinely decent person and was obviously quite upset by the whole fuss it had caused. I then got Sam Coates (Tim Montgomerie's deputy on ConHome) to listen to it several times. He thought Letwin had said the words, but again, wasn't sure. I promised Isabel to ponder further.
I then made further enquiries about this and have learned that Isabel's colleague David Cracknell (Sunday Times Political Editor) phoned CCHQ Press Office on Friday and told them that the interview with Letwin was useless because they couldn't get a story from it. Stranger and stranger then that they put this so-called "non story" on the front page.
My conclusion from this is that it's a situation where both sides genuinely believe they have right on their side. Isabel clearly believes that Letwin said it, while CCHQ are vehement he did not. The BBC has listened to the tape and believe that Letwin said it, while The Times's Sam Coates (not the same one as mentioned above!) wrote a STORY saying he had listened to it but couldn't tell what was said.
Isabel Oakeshott is clearly aggrieved and I understand why, but the evidence on both sides is inconclusive. So my only advice to her is to buy a better quality tape recorder and don't speak over her interviewee's answers!