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Plebgate: Police Conspiracy Considered By No10
There were suspicions in Downing Street of a "conspiracy" over Andrew Mitchell's row with a police officer, the Cabinet Secretary has said.
Sir Jeremy Heywood, who was asked by the Prime Minister to review CCTV footage of the row last September, said it was decided not to inform police but to "let matters rest".
Under fire from MPs on the Public Administration Committee, he insisted that his "little review" into the row was "competent" and came to the right conclusion.
Mr Mitchell initially clung on to his job after being accused of calling police "******* plebs" when he was stopped from cycling through Downing Street's main gates.
He eventually quit as Tory Chief Whip after several weeks but always denied using that language, contradicting the police log of the confrontation.
Claims of a "stitch-up" erupted last month after allegations that an email written by an apparent witness was actually from a policeman posing as a member of the public.
CCTV footage of the row was also leaked and appeared to conflict with the official log in terms of timing and the number of people outside the gates.
Scotland Yard now has 30 officers working on an investigation, who are looking at whether there was a police conspiracy as part of their probe. Two people have been arrested.
The Cabinet Secretary told MPs that he was only asked to look at two emails purporting to be from a member of the public who witnessed the row.
He insisted it would not have been "appropriate" for him to go beyond this, which was why he had not investigated the police log.
But members of the committee were incredulous that he not expanded his remit to consider the log and had not passed on his concerns to police.
Chairman Bernard Jenkin said: "You weren't asked to get to the bottom of it, you didn't think it was your obligation to get to the bottom of it, and because of your failure to get to the bottom of it, the Government lost its chief whip."
Tory MP Charlie Elphicke asked: "Was what actually happened that it just did not occur to anyone that it could be possible that it could be a massive fabrication?"
Sir Jeremy denied this and said this was regarded as a possibility but had not been explored.
"We accepted there were unanswered questions including the possibility of a gigantic conspiracy, or a small conspiracy. Those were unanswered questions but we decided on balance to let matters rest as they were," he said.
Asked why he did not consult the police log and challenge its version of events before reporting back to the PM, he said: "I can only do what I am asked to do.
"It's not the role of a civil servant or the Cabinet Secretary to start investigating the police.
"That's not my job. I don't have the powers, I don't have the expertise, it wouldn't be right for the Cabinet Secretary to be involved in that sort of thing."
He told MPs that Mr Mitchell had not asked to see CCTV footage of the row until after he resigned.
Number 10 would "take stock" of its response to the Mitchell allegations once the police investigation is over, Sir Jeremy added.
"These are very serious allegations. It is very, very important that the people guarding 10 Downing Street are people of integrity," he said.
Downing Street backed the Cabinet Secretary following the hearing.
Mr Cameron's official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister thinks that the review that was undertaken, including the scope of that review, was exactly the right one."