Plebgate puzzle: why is PM protecting Jeremy Heywood?

MPs criticise Cabinet Secretary for glaring failures over Mitchell inquiry – but Cameron sticks by him

Column LAST UPDATED AT 10:17 ON Mon 21 Jan 2013

SIR JEREMY HEYWOOD, the Cabinet Secretary, is criticised by Tory MPs this morning for glaring failures in his investigation into 'Plebgate', which cost the Tory Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell his Cabinet career. Yet David Cameron is standing by his useless sleuth. 

The criticism of Heywood comes in this morning’s report from the Commons Public Administration Committee, chaired by Tory MP Bernard Jenkin.

The committee concludes Heywood should have urged a wider probe into the "discrepancies" between Mitchell’s account of what happened at the gates to Downing Street on 19 September last year and what police claimed had occurred.

The Cabinet Secretary was the wrong man to investigate the claims, the MPs said in their report released this morning. The inquiry should have been carried out by Sir Alex Allan, the PM’s special adviser on propriety in public life, rather than the wooden top in the Cabinet Office.

But No 10 dismissed the MPs’ report and defended its decision to call in Sir Jeremy to carry out the inquiry. It said asking Sir Jeremy to check emails was "the right request at the time". And it was standing by Sir Jeremy. A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister accepts responsibility for all these issues. Jeremy has his full backing."

Mitchell's friends are left wondering: why?

Tory MPs were furious that Heywood failed to expose the obvious flaws in the police case against Mitchell, who was accused of calling officers "f***ing plebs" for refusing to open the gates of Downing Street for him to ride out on his bike.

The police log containing this exchange was later challenged when Michael Crick, the political reporter at Channel 4 News, got hold of the Downing Street security CCTV footage of the incident. Although it was silent, it effectively showed that the police log of the incident was a pack of lies: there was no crowd at the gates of Downing Street to witness the event and Mitchell passed through the gates so quickly that there was clearly no time for the altercation to have taken place as the police claimed.

Supporters of Mitchell believe that if Sir Jeremy had done a proper job, Mitchell would still be in office. They also believe that the Tories would have been spared the highly damaging claim that Mitchell had used the 'pleb' word - damaging because it increased the toxic image of Cameron and his Tory Cabinet as a bunch of posh boys out of touch with ordinary voters.

In quotes issued with his report, Jenkin 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."

On Radio 4's Today programme this morning, Jenkin said: "All we wanted to do was to see what lessons could be learned from this episode, particularly as it became apparent that there were a lot of unanswered questions which had not been covered by Sir Jeremy’s investigation. This inquiry did not set out to make any personal criticisms of Sir Jeremy and I don’t make any."

However, when Sir Jeremy appeared before the committee, Tory MPs were astonished at his admission that he did not seek to verify the accuracy of the police log or whether Mitchell had used the word 'pleb' – which he vehemently denied - by checking it against CCTV footage of the incident as Crick had done.

Mitchell’s friends suspect that the whole Plebgate affair was linked to the campaign by the police union, the Police Federation, against the 20 per cent cuts in their budgets. Police officers even wore ‘pleb’ T-shirts in protests outside the annual Tory Party conference.
 
Why is Cameron standing by Sir Jeremy? The Mole suspects it is because the Tory high command has decided it cannot take on both the police and the civil service at the same time. · 

Disqus - noscript

Answer - because they both want to avoid any awkward questions under section 20 of the Theft Act 1968, which reads as follows:

Suppression, etc. of documents.

(1)A person who dishonestly, with a view to gain for himself or another or with intent to cause loss to another, destroys, defaces or conceals any ... original document of or belonging to, or filed or deposited in, any ... government department shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.