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

Column LAST UPDATED AT 10:52 ON Wed 19 Dec 2012

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.

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Disqus - noscript

...this episode exposes the (possible) ineptitude of Sir Jeremy Heywood - did he, or did he not(?) examine the relevant CCTV footage? It also throws a very uncomfortable light on the Police themselves insofar as this does whiff of some sort of malicious and mischievous twisting of the facts, in order to pursue some form of vendetta against the Government - let us not lose sight of the fact that the Police Federation were VERY energetic in developing this story to the detriment of Andrew Mitchell, in the process of which of course, they portrayed themselves as downtrodden "class" victims.

It is absolutely essential that the police are seen to be Incorruptible, fair, objective and apolitical in all of their dealings with the public; of course, in private, policemen and woman cannot be expected to hold no personal views about politics or any other matter which might affect them, as it might affect any other member of society - but that is where it should stop - abuse of office, abuse of privilege and abuse of power lie only a very short step away - it is much too easy, and temptingly so, for a policeman or woman to use his or her position to pursue a personal agenda.

Encouragingly, though, it is the Metropolitan Police themselves who now seem to be on the case, so to speak - let us hope that a full, objective and thorough examination of all of the available (non - fabricated) facts is conducted - in the interests of fairness, and justice and to restore the wider public's faith in our, generally, exemplary Police Forces throughout Great Britain.

No surprise to many of us,the police are experts at fabricating evidence and "plebs" is a pretty fair assessment of many of them,welcome to the real world Mr Cameron