Mitchell scandal sets police and Downing St face-to-face
It was bad enough when police wore ‘Pc Pleb' T-shirts; now it looks as if they stitched-up a Cabinet minister
THE Metropolitan Police announced this morning that they will investigate evidence broadcast by Channel 4 News last night that a police officer posed as a member of the public and fabricated evidence against Andrew Mitchell over the allegation that he accused officers of being "f***ing plebs".
The allegation, which Mitchell vehemently denied but was unable to disprove, led to him being fired as Chief Whip in October only six weeks after he had started in the job.
The police inquiry represents an embarrassing volte face by the Met. Only 24 hours earlier, Commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe said he was standing by the original police account.
Lord (Michael) Howard, the former Home Secretary, told Radio 4's Today programme this morning that he was "appalled" at the allegation that a police officer posed as a member of the public to frame Mitchell. Howard said he hoped that if the charge against the police officer is true, Mitchell will get a Cabinet job back "as soon as possible".
David Davis, another former Tory minister, told the same programme: "We have had a serious injustice. He (Mitchell) should be returned to high office."
The new evidence has raised the nature of the incident from a tiresome row about whether Mitchell used the ‘P-word' (which was toxic because it confirmed suspicions that the Tories are posh and out of touch) to a serious scandal that will test the relationship between government and the police if it is proved that officers "stitched up" a Cabinet minister.
Last night's expose by Michael Crick, the Channel 4 News political editor, came after Mitchell gained permission to release CCTV footage of the entrance to Downing Street.
A pre-Christmas reception at Number Ten last night was "drained" as those attending the bash - including David Cameron - slipped away to televisions in Downing Street to see what Crick had to say.
The footage showed Mitchell pushing his bike through the pedestrian gate and exchanging a few quick words with a police officer. It proved that if Mitchell did harangue the police as they claimed in a log, he was pretty damned quick about it.
Crucially, the footage showed that the police log of the incident was totally wrong when it suggested there was a crowd at the gates and they were "visibly shocked" by Mitchell's outburst. This is a quote from the police log:
"There were several members of public present as is the norm opposite the pedestrian gate and as we neared it, Mr MITCHELL said: "Best you learn your f—— place…you don't run this f—— government… You're f—— plebs." The members of public looked visibly shocked…"
But the CCTV footage shows only one man walking up and down, and he doesn't look interested in Mitchell.
The CCTV is silent so we cannot know for sure that Mitchell did or didn't use the ‘P' word. But it does undermine the validity of a second piece of evidence against him – an email sent to John Randall, deputy chief whip, by a "constituent" totally corroborating the police log almost word for word.
The email was the crucial bit of evidence that finally sunk Mitchell, because it appeared to confirm the police log. Crick challenged the email sender last night and he denied witnessing anything.
David Cameron, who fired Mitchell, is said to be "livid" that this has only come out now. An investigation by Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, failed to turn up this obvious piece of evidence, raising the question: did Heywood not bother to look at the CCTV to check the police account?
Cameron's anger was reflected in an extraordinary statement issued by his spokesman, Craig Oliver, saying: "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."
Mitchell says the incident "has shaken my lifelong support and confidence in the police. I believe now there should be a full inquiry so we can get to the bottom of this."
If the police did stitch up a Cabinet minister with fabricated evidence, it shows just how low relations between the police and the government have sunk; the Police Federation is campaigning against cuts in police budgets and its members stood at the Tory Party conference in ‘Pc Pleb' T-shirts to embarrass the government.
It is very rare indeed for Downing Street to suggest police have been involved in fabricating evidence but it wouldn't be the first time – today we will hear about it again with the review of the cover-up at the inquest into the 96 dead at Hillsborough.