The hardest word

First he defended what he'd said. Then he said he'd chosen the wrong words.

Now Ken Clarke's said sorry - not in yet another interview, but in a letter to the victim of an attempted rape who confronted him on that emotional BBC Radio 5 Live phone in.

The Justice Secretary has told her: "I have always believed that all rape is extremely serious, and must be treated as such.

I am sorry if my comments gave you any other impression or upset you."

Clarke's earlier lack of repentance - he told me that he had not apologised - was for a very clear set of reasons.

* He believes that greater use of American-style plea bargaining in which criminals have an incentive to plead guilty early will save victims the unnecessary trauma of the long wait for justice or humiliating cross examination in court

* He blames the Daily Mail for turning a proposal affecting all criminals into a row about rapists alone. He accused them of wanting to add "sexual excitement" to their headlines

* He was frustrated that he was cross examined on Radio 5 Live about an average rape sentence of just 5 years. What he called more "serious rapes" did get longer sentences, he said, and that was where he got himself into trouble. He was suggesting that some rapes were serious and others less so.

What's more, he got his facts wrong. He suggested that sex with someone below the age of consent was rape but usually got a lower sentence and appeared to confuse it with "date rape".

Actually, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 that is only true of people under the age of 13. His example of consensual sex between a 17-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl is not treated as rape but is a different offence which carries a lower penalty.