U.K. lawmakers criticized the country’s top civil servant over the inadequacy of a probe into allegations that led to the resignation of Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Cabinet.
The House of Commons Public Administration Committee said Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood should have urged Cameron to ask an adviser specifically tasked with looking at ministerial misconduct to investigate Mitchell. The chief whip resigned after allegations he was abusive to police in September.
“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,” Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative lawmaker who heads the panel, said in a report published in London today. “This underlines the all-too-obvious truth that investigations into ministerial misconduct are not an appropriate role for the Cabinet secretary.”
London’s Metropolitan Police made two arrests last month in an investigation into an officer’s allegation that Mitchell, who was in charge of discipline in Cameron’s Tory party, called officers “plebs” outside the prime minister’s Downing Street residence after they refused to let him cycle through the main gate. He stepped down a month later.
A report by Channel 4 News televised Dec. 18 said a police officer had posed as a member of the public and falsely claimed to have witnessed the events in an e-mail to his lawmaker. Cameron may restore Mitchell to office if the new evidence exonerates him, a person familiar with the premier’s thinking said at the time.
Mitchell said last month that “elements” within the Metropolitan force conducted a “smear campaign” against him. He admitted swearing at officers, while denying he used the “awful toxic language” attributed to him.
According to today’s report, even though Heywood told the committee in testimony he considered “that there were unanswered questions, including the possibility of a gigantic conspiracy or a small conspiracy,” he said he “decided on balance to let matters rest as they were.”
Heywood “told us he had never assessed CCTV evidence before,” Jenkin said, referring to recordings from cameras outside Downing Street that might have clarified the allegations against Mitchell.
Jenkin said that Cameron’s adviser on ministerial interests, Alex Allan, “might well have uncovered the truth” of the matter “given time, attention and with his relevant experience.”