Andrew Mitchell and 'Plebgate': why it now looks like a stitch-up
C4 News exposes how a police officer pretended he could corroborate evidence against Mitchell
IS PLEBGATE all a myth? Was Andrew Mitchell framed by police, with one of their number pretending that he had witnessed the altercation on 19 September between the then Chief Whip and officers guarding the entrance to Downing Street and was able to corroborate their evidence that Mitchell called them "f***ing plebs"? In short, was Mitchell forced to resign over nothing? That appears to be the case after a Channel 4 News investigation broadcast last night.
The 'altercation': According to a police log leaked to the Daily Telegraph five days after the incident, officers told Mitchell they could not open the main gate for him to take his bike through. Infuriated, he told them to "learn your f***ing place"; that they didn't "run this f***ing government", and that they were "f***ing plebs". Mitchell has consistently denied this.
Mitchell's denial: The former Chief Whip told C4 News the three phrases “were hung around my neck for the following 28 days, every day in the press, which were used to destroy my political career and were used to toxify the Conservative party. They are completely untrue, I never said phrases like that at all, I would never call someone an effing pleb. Anyone who knows me well would know that it is absolutely not in me to use phrases like that."
The 'eyewitness': According to the leaked police log, there was a crowd of people – ordinary members of the public – outside the gates to Downing Street who witnessed the altercation and were “visibly shocked” by Mitchell's remarks. One of the crowd sent an email to his MP, John Randall, who happens to be a deputy chief whip, saying that he and his nephew had witnessed the incident. As C4 News reported, “His version matched the police story that later appeared in the Telegraph almost word for word”. But the email contained two crucial untruths: there was no crowd of onlookers and the writer was no ordinary passer-by, but a policeman...
The CCTV footage: C4 News got hold of the CCTV footage from 19 September. It shows Mitchell, with his bike, pausing for 20 seconds or so with police officers – but there is no crowd of onlookers.
The policeman: C4 News tracked down the man who sent the email to John Randall and discovered he was a serving police officer. Questioned by C4 News, he said was ever there, adding: "I wasn't a witness to anything." This was the officer arrested over the weekend after C4 gave his name to police.
Was it a conspiracy? The clear suspicion is that the police officer wrote the email, pretending to have been an eyewitness, in order to prove fake corroboration for the details contained in the police log – which were also fabricated. Tory MP David Davis told Channel 4: "You try to avoid conspiracy theories in my business otherwise you'd go mad, but it does look very weird, it does look very strange... How on earth could this have happened? This man wasn't where he said he was, there wasn't the crowd he said was there, and his description reads like an extract from a police log itself. You have to say: where did this come from?”
Number Ten reaction: The suggestion that police were involved in a stitch-up is “exceptionally serious”, says Craig Oliver, head of communications at Downing Street. "Any allegations that a serving police officer posed as a member of the public and fabricated evidence against a cabinet minister are exceptionally serious. It is therefore essential that the police get to the bottom of this as a matter of urgency."
Police reaction: The Metropolitan Police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe has promised an inquiry, the Radio 4 Today progamme reported this morning. However, as The Times reports, he said only yesterday: “I don't think from what I've heard up to now that it's really affected the original account of the officers at the scene, because this officer we've arrested isn't one of those involved originally.” John Tully, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents Met officers, said his organisation “unequivocally and categorically refutes any allegation that it was part of a conspiracy to unseat a cabinet minister".
What next? Novelist Robert Harris, a long-time friend of Andrew Mitchell, told the Daily Telegraph: “I think people will, for the first time, begin to see that there are two sides to this whole event. Whether that will lead to his recall to the front rank of government, I don't know. I think the most important thing for him at this stage is to clear his name, to get his honour back, because at the moment he is a pretty trashed figure.” ·