Plebgate may have been a ‘gigantic conspiracy’, admits man who let it lie

MPs give top civil servant Sir Jeremy Heywood a rough ride over Mitchell inquiry ordered by PM

Whitehall Editor

Britain’s most senior civil servant was aware that the Government’s former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell may have been the victim of a “gigantic conspiracy” when he was fighting to save his job - but did not raise his concerns with the police, it emerged today.

Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, admitted that his review of CCTV evidence in the aftermath of Mr Mitchell’s confrontation with Downing Street protection officers left a number of “unanswered questions”. But despite his concerns he did not raise the matter either with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, or the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

“We accepted that there were unanswered questions including the possibility of a gigantic conspiracy or a small conspiracy,” he told MPs on the Commons Public Administration Committee. “Those were unanswered questions but we decided on balance to let matters rest as they were.”

His admission drew the ire of MPs questioning him, who suggested his failure to pursue the evidence allowed the career of a senior cabinet minister to be unnecessarily sacrificed.

“Don’t you think [the] fundamental problem with your investigation [was that you] weren’t asked to get to the bottom of it? You didn’t feel it was your obligation to get to the bottom of it, and by failing to get to the bottom of it the Government lost its Chief Whip,” said the committee chair, Bernard Jenkin.

But Mr Heywood rejected the charges. He also denied claims by senior Government sources, reported in The Independent, that he and David Cameron had not pursued their suspicions against the police because they had not wanted to damage relations further with the officers protecting senior politicians. That was “not a consideration”, he said.

During an hour of often hostile questioning, Sir Jeremy said that he had been asked by Mr Cameron to conduct a short inquiry into whether emails sent – purportedly by the member of the public who witnessed the altercation – to the Government’s Deputy Chief Whip should alter his decision to stand by Mr Mitchell.

But despite beginning his inquiry on the day the Downing Street police logs were leaked to the media, Sir Jeremy insisted he had not taken these into consideration when assessing the CCTV images of the incident. “I did not think it was appropriate for me to investigate the police log or necessary,” he said. “My review – set by the Prime Minister - was into the emails, not the police log.”

Asked whether he felt he need to investigate the police log – which has subsequently shown to be significantly at odds with CCTV, he replied: “No - I reported my findings to the Prime Minister and it was then up to him to decide to take it forward, and he took the view that we should draw a line under the episode and let Andrew Mitchell carry on.” Mr Mitchell eventually resigned several weeks later.

Sir Jeremy also suggested he did not have the time to get to truth of the incident. “It would not have been realistic to expect me to arbitrate between the police officers in Downing Street and Andrew Mitchell,” he said. “I don’t have the powers, I certainly don’t have the time and frankly both sides had decided to draw a line under it.”

Asked why he didn’t raise his concerns with the police or the IPCC, he repeated: “My report was for the Prime Minister.”

Speaking afterwards, Alun Cairns, one of the members of the committee who questioned Sir Jeremy, said the Cabinet Secretary had clearly not investigated all the evidence. “What surprised me was that he looked at it [the evidence] in isolation rather than bringing it together,” he said. “And if he brought them all together, that clearly showed significant questions or serious questions that probably should have brought to the police or the IPCC’s attention.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future