I'm beginning to feel sorry for Stephen Byers. For while it may be the hottest issue in grocery for decades, as we went to press on Thursday the inquiry into supermarket profitability was degenerating into a Whitehall farce. By the time this issue of The Grocer hits the streets, we may finally have heard the minister's official verdict. I hope so, because the goings on during the past seven days have added a ridiculous new chapter to the whole futile exercise. After the guessing game at Labour's conference about how much "bashing the multiples might be forced to suffer", the plot thickened last weekend when leaked extracts from the report sparked a new media frenzy. The multiples, predictably, were incensed when parts of the long awaited document were splashed across the newspapers, even though the chains had heard nothing from the DTI beyond the usual statement that, as the matter was "market sensitive," nothing could be revealed until the official release. It's to be hoped the leaker is unmasked, although I doubt that will happen. For many people, meanwhile, this suggests a "sinister government plot", with parts of the report being leaked in the hope of putting a damning spin on the big chains, and thus helping New Labour's Rip-off disciples save face when Byers' unveils his recommendations. Even so, most media folk failed to take the bait, and suggestions that Byers' final verdict might be a damp squib spiced Monday's headlines. Certainly our Brighton experience suggested many in government wish the matter could quietly be forgotten. So, as the Rip-off merchants slink back into the Whitehall woodwork, the hapless Byers has no alternative but to look as if he's doing something. That means he'll wave his consumer champion banner, fiddle with the planning rules, and then retire from the arena with as much dignity as his ministerial skills allow. Then, hopefully, the top five can get on with doing what they do best competing in a fiercely competitive market. Clive Beddall, Editor {{OPINION }}