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
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
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: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'