Cash-for-Honours Investigation Co-Operation Nil
What lessons can be learned, if any, and did the CPS draw the right conclusions from the 16 month, £1million investigation? A system that relies on donations from private individuals to fund political parties will always spread suspicion.
Aficionados could smell the stench of rottenness pervading the Westminster committee room after Assistant Commissioner John Yates completed his testimony in Westminster yesterday. No one expects justice in banana republics, and backscratching among aristos in Ruritania is always amusing, but yesterday's farce in the mother of parliaments was worse than bewildering.
The coincidence of why four inconsequential multimillionaires should each have simultaneously and secretly agreed to lend the Labour party more than £1m on non-commercial terms, and each be nominated shortly afterwards to become a peer, has never been adequately explained.
Just why Barry Townsley, a stockbroker with a colourful history, should have been offered a peerage, is puzzling. Nor will it ever be resolved why one of the four millionaires, Chai Patel, who was registered for tax purposes as domiciled abroad and lacked any serious involvement in the Labour party, should have been considered suitable to be in the Lords. He has never properly explained his conduct; nor has Tony Blair.
The detective in charge of the investigation into the cash-for-honours scandal indicated yesterday that he was warned that Tony Blair might have had to resign if interviewed as a suspect during the police inquiry.
John Yates, the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said that he came under "pressure" from Downing Street during the 16-month investigation and that he felt "uncomfortable" on a number of occasions. However, he insisted he had not buckled under the pressure and altered his actions.
Assistant Commissioner John Yates accused people at the top of Mr Blair’s administration of seeing him as a “political problem” and complained of the time that it took to establish key facts.
After giving evidence to MPs for two hours Mr Yates failed conspicuously to answer when asked whether, having spent 18 months in the “murky corners” of the British political Establishment, he believed that there was a “trade in honours”.
Mr Yates said he had received letters from lawyers of some of the main players in the inquiry before yesterday's hearing, warning him against divulging information to the MPs that was gained during the police investigation.
He confirmed, however, that a Diary by the biotechnology entrepreneur, Sir Christopher Evans, and a note by Ruth Turner, Tony Blair's "gatekeeper" at No 10, was "crucial evidence" which "led us down another path", leading to the inquiry being extended.
The head of the Scotland Yard "cash for honours" investigation has said his officers did not receive complete co-operation from people at the centre of the inquiry.
He also indicated Tony Blair's aides had warned him the then Prime Minister was prepared to resign if he was questioned as a suspect in the case.
24/12/2006: Other key players in the affair such as Lord Levy, the Prime Minister's personal fundraiser and Middle East envoy; Jonathan Powell, the Downing Street chief of staff; Ruth Turner, the director of government relations and John McTernan, director of political relations, who both helped draw up lists of proposed peerages, all left office with Mr Blair.
The fact that Mr Blair is at the centre of the most serious political corruption inquiry for 70 years makes it even more certain that the CPS will take its time to ensure it reaches the right conclusion.
Carmen Dowd, head of the Special Crime Division at the CPS, will make the final decision.
She is being advised by David Perry, QC.
Mr.Yates said obstructions had hampered the inquiry, causing it to last months longer as he probed claims of a cover-up.
The investigation was launched in March 2006 following a complaint by SNP MP Angus McNeil who said secret loans had been given to Labour by wealthy donors who were then nominated for peerages by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair.
In a dramatic moment, Mr Yates was directly asked: Have you discovered there is a trade in peerages?'.
After pausing for several seconds, he pointedly failed to deny the dynamite suggestion, replying: "I think I've done my job. I followed the evidence.
I provided that evidence to the The Crown Prosecution Service : The CPS and they made their decision."
Friday April 20, 2007; Detectives investigating the cash-for-honours allegations have finished their inquiries and today handed a dossier to the Crown Prosecution Service.
The Metropolitan police said that the 216-page document was handed over together with supporting material.
The Met said in a statement: "It is now a matter for the CPS to consider the evidence, advise us on whether any further inquiries are necessary and whether any charges should be brought."
The CPS confirmed it had received the file from the Metropolitan police, and said it will now be looked at "to determine whether any individuals should be charged with any offences".
It is now up to the CPS to decide whether anyone should be charged after an inquiry which has seen 136 people interviewed - including prime minister Tony Blair and some of his aides. In total 6,300 documents were handed to the CPS during the course of the inquiry - and the main file is said to be a "216-page report with supportive material".
Mr Yates became tetchy in a clash with a Conservative MP, Charles Walker, who accused him of tipping off the media in advance of the dawn raid and arrest at the home of No 10 official Ruth Turner in January.
"Calm down!" said Mr Walker, after Mr Yates defended the arrest by saying "People under suspicion in those kind of cases will try to hide evidence."
Blair was quizzed by officers as a witness three times, the first serving prime minister to face questions in a criminal investigation.
Two of his former aides, a donor, and a top Labour fundraiser were arrested during the inquiry, but never charged.
Some analysts believe the saga contributed to pressure from the party for Blair to step down early.
The MPs who questioned Mr Yates were Carmen Dowd, head of the special crime division of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), and David Perry QC, adviser to the CPS.
Mr Yates said the £1m probe had taken a long time because the subject was "necessarily quite complex and difficult".
After a police investigation lasting more than a year, the Crown Prosecution Service announced in July that no charges would be brought in relation to the Labour Party.
It emerged last week that there would be no prosecutions relating to Tory lenders, either.
A spokeswoman for the committee has said it is not interested in re-running the police inquiry, but in finding out what lessons could be learnt in terms of possible changes to legislation.
April 13 2006: Des Smith is the first person arrested. Mr Smith, who until January was an adviser to the body that finds wealthy sponsors for the government's city academies, had allegedly suggested that backers of a flagship Labour schools policy could expect to be rewarded with honours. His lawyers later say he "categorically denies" the allegations.
July 12 2006: Lord Levy , Tony Blair's chief fundraiser, is arrested for the first time. He is later re-interviewed and re-bailed without charge and insists he is innocent.
July 14 2006: It emerges that police officers have already questioned at least two government ministers. Former Labour party chairman Ian McCartney and the science minister, Lord Sainsbury (who has since stepped down), are among 48 people interviewed by this stage.
September 20 2006: Sir Christopher Evans, the biotech mogul who made a £1m loan to Labour, is the third person to be arrested. He is bailed without charge. The next day he says he is "extremely shocked and dismayed" and insists: "I have done nothing wrong."
November 4 2006: Duncan McNeil MSP calls for Lord Peter Goldsmith to distance himself from the inquiry following reports that he might be responsible for making the final decision over whether criminal charges are brought. Mr McNeil says that there is an "obvious conflict of interest" given Lord Goldsmith's political links to the prime minister, but the attorney general refuses to rule out having the final say.
November 8 2006: It emerges that virtually all ministers who served in the cabinet in the run-up to the 2005 general election have been contacted by Scotland Yard, asking them to declare formally in writing what they knew about the loans.
They included such senior figures as Gordon Brown, John Prescott, and Ruth Kelly, but not Mr Blair. Alan Milburn, the former health secretary, also reveals that he has been questioned over the affair.
It also emerges that Patricia Hewitt was questioned.
November 10 2006: Lord Sainsbury resigns as science minister but says that his decision is for personal reasons and has nothing to do with the inquiry.
November 12 2006: Mr Prescott, the deputy prime minister, declares himself satisfied with the police's conduct as Downing Street rejects reports that officials at No 10 have complained about how it has been handled.
November 16 2006: In a letter updating MPs, the Met's deputy assistant commissioner, John Yates, who is leading the inquiry, says the investigation has turned up "significant and valuable material" and that "considerable progress continues to be made".
November 18 2006: Mr Yates, it emerges, has been asked by the committee to beef up his letter to them detailing the progress of his inquiry after an initial submission was considered "too cursory". It also becomes clear the letter was published at the request of the MPs.
November 22 2006: Ms Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary, has a "brief" interview with the police, talking to them as a witness. She is believed to have faced questioning over donations made to her constituency party in Leicester West by curry tycoon Sir Gulam Noon- one of those who later loaned the party money and was blocked for a peerage.
January 19 2007: Ms Turner is arrested under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925, and also on suspicion of perverting the course of justice.
January 19 2007: MPs on the constitutional affairs committee reveal evidence showing that the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, overruled the lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, in refusing to stand aside from the cash-for-peerages probe.
January 30: Lord Levy is arrested for a second time, this time on suspicion of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
March 3: The attorney general obtains an injunction against the BBC to stop it broadcasting a report about the cash-for-honours investigation.
March 5: The injunction against the BBC is amended so that the broadcaster can report that it related to a document written by Ms Turner to Mr Jonathan Powell about Lord Levy.
March 6: The Guardian defies the attorney general to report that detectives were investigating whether Lord Levy urged Ms Turner to shape the evidence she gave to Scotland Yard.
The BBC injunction is partially lifted, and the broadcaster reports that Ms Turner had written that she was worried that Lord Levy had put to her a description of "his role in drawing up the honours list which she believed to be untrue".
March 20: The Met police hand over their report to the Crown Prosecution Service. It is 216 pages long with 6,300 supporting documents. The investigation has reportedly cost £800,000.
May 23: Lord Levy announces he will step down as the PM's special envoy to the Middle East when Mr Blair leaves Downing Street. There is widespread criticism that his later leaving party at the FCO is funded by the taxpayer.
June 28: The day after Tony Blair steps down as prime minister it emerges that he has been questioned for a third time by the Met police, again as a witness. The interview is believed to have taken place three weeks previously.
July 7: The CPS announces it has enough evidence to make a decision on charges.
July 19: Sources say the CPS will not bring charges against any of the three arrested.
July 20: CPS confirms it has insufficient evidence to charge anyone in the case.
October 9: CPS says there is "insufficient evidence" to charge anyone in relation to cash-for-honours allegations against the Conservative party.
October 11: The House of Commons public administration committee relaunches its inquiry into the allegations, which was suspended while the police investigation took place.