'Plebgate': MPs rebuke top civil servant over row
- 21 January 2013
- From the section UK Politics
The most senior civil servant in Downing Street "failed to resolve" key questions about the Andrew Mitchell "plebgate" affair when he looked into the matter, a group of MPs has said.
Sir Jeremy Heywood should have urged a wider probe into "discrepancies" of accounts between the MP and police, the Public Administration Committee said.
The cabinet secretary was the wrong man to investigate the claims, it added.
No 10 said asking him to check emails was "the right request at the time".
Mr Mitchell allegedly called officers "plebs" during an altercation outside Downing Street in September when police from the Diplomatic Protection Group (DPG) asked him to use the pedestrian gate rather than the main gate.
The former chief whip admitted in his resignation letter that he was wrong to have said as his "parting remark" that "I thought you guys were supposed to f***ing help us".
He apologised to the officer for that comment, but denies he swore at the police and maintained he did not use the word "pleb... or any of the other pejorative descriptions attributed to me".
Mr Mitchell initially remained in his job after the officer accepted his apology, but resigned five weeks later.
Doubts have subsequently been cast about the validity of the claims against him, including emails sent to Mr Mitchell's deputy at the time - Conservative MP John Randall - by a member of the public claiming to have witnessed the incident.
Sir Jeremy was drawn into the affair when, five days after the incident occurred, he was asked by the prime minister to consider the emails and whether they altered Mr Cameron's original assessment that Mr Mitchell should stay in his job.
Sir Jeremy concluded the emails - which it has since been alleged were sent by an off-duty police officer - did not provide "conclusive or reliable evidence" against Mr Mitchell.
Appearing before MPs earlier this month, Sir Jeremy said there were "some inaccuracies and inconsistencies" in different accounts of the altercation.
He said he had not recommended further action as his review "was very tightly drawn". He explained that he had not been asked to investigate questions about the conduct of police - which he said would be a matter for the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
'All too obvious"
However, the cross-party committee said Sir Jeremy should have pursued the matter further and insisted the issues required further investigation.
The group of MPs said they were "surprised" that Sir Jeremy did not seek to verify the accuracy of a document purporting to be the police log of the altercation which was published in the Daily Telegraph.
They also suggest he should have advised the PM to refer the police account of the altercation to the relevant authorities and said it was "regrettable" the whole issue of Mr Mitchell's conduct was not referred to the PM's adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Alex Allan.
"Once he had completed his "very tightly drawn review", he viewed his job as being to "await further instructions, if any", they said. "He did not view it as his "job" to report the inaccuracies and unanswered questions to the police."
Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said: "The cabinet secretary attempted to investigate this matter but failed to resolve or even to investigate the questions arising from the discrepancies in the accounts of the events, or to advise the prime minister that they required further investigation," he said.
"This underlines the all-too-obvious truth that investigations into ministerial misconduct are not an appropriate role for the cabinet secretary to undertake...Given time, attention and with his relevant experience, Sir Alex might well have uncovered the truth."
A Cabinet Office spokesman said the prime minister strongly believed his decision to ask Sir Jeremy to look into the emails "was the right request at the time", adding that there was nothing in the report to alter this view and the review had had nothing to do with Mr Mitchell's resignation.
"If there had been evidence of criminal activity it would have been referred to the police. The unanswered questions about this case are ones which the police must now get to the bottom of. We are as determined as anyone else is to see that happen."