Britain’s most powerful mandarin faces public humiliation after MPs claimed his bungled investigation cost ‘plebgate’ ex-Tory Minister Andrew Mitchell his job.
A report by a powerful Commons committee will tomorrow accuse Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood of failing to give the former Chief Whip a chance to prove he was the victim of a police conspiracy.
Mr Mitchell was forced to resign over allegations that he called a policeman a ‘f****** pleb’ after he refused to let him cycle through the Downing Street gates.
He claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy after it emerged that one of his key police accusers had lied.
A copy of an explosive report by the Commons Public Administration Select Committee, obtained by The Mail on Sunday, shows that MPs lambast Sir Jeremy’s handling of a Downing Street investigation into Mr Mitchell. It says the £190,000-a-year civil servant:
- Failed to investigate ‘discrepancies’ between claims by the police about Mr Mitchell’s alleged outburst and evidence from CCTV footage of the clash.
- Failed to check the accuracy of the police log that claimed Mr Mitchell used the words ‘f****** pleb’.
- Failed to devote enough time to the investigation.
- Failed to advise David Cameron that a much fuller investigation was needed to discover the truth.
In an implicit criticism of the Prime Minister, it says Mr Cameron was wrong to ask Sir Jeremy to investigate the matter in the first place.
The committee says he should have demanded a more rigorous probe by Sir Alex Allan, the former spy chief who advises Mr Cameron on allegations of ministerial misconduct.
The report says: ‘The fact Sir Jeremy did look into the matter but failed to resolve questions arising from the discrepancies in the accounts of the events supports our assertion that the Cabinet Secretary is not the appropriate person to investigate such issues.’
The MPs state pointedly that it is ‘surprising that Sir Jeremy was not familiar’ with the account provided by the policeman at the centre of the row to another No 10 official. They continue: ‘It is equally surprising that he did not seek to verify the police log. He should have advised the Prime Minister to refer the allegations of ministerial misconduct to his special adviser for a fuller investigation.’
The report also casts doubts on the authenticity of the police log which included the bombshell ‘f****** pleb’ claim. A copy of the log leaked to the press played a major part in forcing Mr Mitchell’s resignation.
The MPs’ report says: ‘There is in fact no such thing as a police log but there may be a document which was written up from notes recorded by the officer concerned in his notebook. No such notes have reached the public domain.
‘It is not clear if the version of the log which appeared in the press did represent the information recorded in the officer’s notebook.’
The report is a major boost to Mr Mitchell’s hopes of winning back his Cabinet place. Significantly, criticism of Sir Jeremy was backed by MPs from all three major parties on the committee.
A senior parliamentary source said: ‘Andrew Mitchell was badly let down by No 10 and the Cabinet Secretary. It seems incredible that it took a TV investigation to expose gaping holes in the claims made against him. If the Cabinet Secretary had done his job properly, it is highly unlikely Mitchell would have had to resign. The police claims would have crumbled.’
Another source said: ‘Heywood was very unimpressive when he gave evidence to the committee. If you are the Cabinet Secretary, you can’t just say, “I was only obeying orders.”
‘He was asked why he didn’t investigate the possible use of the word “pleb” and he said he hadn’t been asked to do it. He’s not an office boy on his first day at work. He’s the Cabinet Secretary. He is supposed to use initiative and intelligence.’
Sir Jeremy’s investigation concluded there was no proof Mr Mitchell had called the policeman a ‘pleb’.
As a result, Mr Cameron decided not to sack him, but he changed his mind three weeks later when the furore failed to die down.
Crucially, Sir Jeremy investigated an email sent by someone posing as an eyewitness which backed up, almost word for word, the account by the policeman at the centre of the dispute, Toby Rowland. Sir Jeremy told MPs he had ‘no reason to doubt the bona fides’ of the ‘witness’.
After Mr Mitchell’s resignation, it emerged the email was bogus and was sent by policeman Keith Wallis who, like Mr Rowland, is a member of the Diplomatic Protection Group. Mr Wallis did not witness the incident and was arrested last month on suspicion of misconduct in public office.
The MPs’ report is only the latest controversy to involve Sir Jeremy, who has been described as the most powerful unelected man in Britain.
As Principal Private Secretary to Tony Blair, he was a key member of the coterie accused of running a ‘sofa Government’ in the run-up to the Iraq War. He left the Civil Service in 2003 to join Morgan Stanley, before returning to become PPS to Gordon Brown and then Permanent Secretary to Mr Cameron.
His Morgan Stanley job came back to haunt him when it emerged he had supported a controversial proposed merger between BAE, the British defence giant, and EADS, the continental European civil aviation firm. The bank had been advising on the deal.
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