Simon Case is now off the case – is this mess really any surprise? | Sean O’Grady

Simon Case is now off the case – is this mess really any surprise? | Sean O’Grady
If the prime minister was hoping for a swift end to the scandal, he will be sorely disappointed

Case closed, then. The man tasked with investigating claims of Covid rule-breaking parties in Downing Street, the cabinet secretary Simon Case, held a rule-breaking party in Westminster himself. Or at least it looks that way (innocent until proven guilty, and all that).

Something didn’t add up. Case, faced with a tricky suspect in himself, knew that his questioning had to be firm but fair. Yet, after only a short time after coming under suspicion, Case had cracked and stood down from the case.

No unconventional interrogation techniques were necessary. Inspector Case and his team might be excused for opening a bottle of prosecco and ordering in some snacks to celebrate another tough week serving the British public. There might be a promotion in it for Case, or a demotion, whichever is the case.

Like a better-educated Bergerac, a politer Jack Regan, or a less sexy Wallander, Case breaks the rules (not those rules) – but gets results. He is smart enough to detect the subtle contradictions in his own account of events. Apparently he “walked past” the party but was also at it, albeit briefly. But how fleeting can an attendance be? Nanoseconds, if his head glanced into the room as he walked on by, but surely longer if he made a speech (unless the speech was delivered from outside the room – which seems unlikely).

One can just imagine him smugly thinking he had bought his parcel of equivocations when, just as he was about to leave the cabinet secretary’s office, Inspector Case turned back, Columbo-style, and uttered the famous phrase, “Oh, just one more thing, Mr Case… did you tell Boris Johnson about what happened? Just for my report, you understand.”

What might also interest the next person assigned to the Case case is what happened when the prime minister appointed the man to look into the “gatherings”, which may or may not have taken place. Like the unfortunate Allegra Stratton during her mock press conference about parties that didn’t happen, we all wonder, “What’s the answer?”

What are the facts? Did Case confess to Johnson that he’d actually been at one of them? Did Johnson confess to him – or both? And what did Johnson advise? “Don’t worry, just carry on”?

If so, why didn’t Case just refuse the absurd commission and suggest some other permanent secretary gets onto the trail of the wine and cheese? Who knows, perhaps Defra harbours the British civil service’s brilliant answer to Sherlock Holmes; or the Highways Agency has its very own Miss Marple, someone able to catch the master criminal at the centre of so many unsolved crimes.

Next week’s episode: “A Matter of Honour”.