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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £24,000

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An enthusiastic individual is r...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - West Midlands - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - Yorkshire & Humber - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?