Former chief whip says he was accused of using ‘awful toxic language’ in an attempt to destroy his political career
Andrew Mitchell has claimed he was the victim of a “vile” police “stitch-up” to destroy his political career after a confrontation with armed officers in Downing Street.
Amid growing support for Mitchell on the Tory benches, the former chief whip says he was accused of using “awful toxic language” that amounted to a lie.
Mitchell was forced to resign last October after police officers guarding No 10 accused him of calling them “fucking plebs” after they declined to allow him to cycle through the security gates.
The former chief whip admitted swearing in the presence of the officers, though he has strenuously denied having called them plebs.
In his first detailed account of the incident, Mitchell writes in the Sunday Times: “Now I have had a taste of how extraordinarily powerless an individual is when trapped between the pincers of the police on one side and the press on the other. If this can happen to a senior government minister, then what chance does a youth in Brixton or Handsworth have?”
Mitchell’s intervention came as Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan police commissioner, broke off his Christmas holiday amid a growing crisis for the police:
• Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, the former director of public prosecutions, accused Hogan-Howe of being “extremely foolish” after saying last week that “nothing” made him doubt the police account. “This speaks of an arrogance of power that we’ve seen far too much over the past 40 years,” Macdonald writes in the Mail on Sunday.
• Nick Herbert, who was police minister until September, warnes in an Observer article of a “cancer” of wrongdoing in British policing.
In his Sunday Times article, Mitchell says he feels as if his lifelong confidence in the police has been misplaced. He says David Cameron initially gave him a sympathetic hearing when Mitchell looked him in the eye to insist he never described the officers as plebs. Mitchell had been summoned to Downing Street the day after the incident on 19 September after No 10 had been alerted by the Sun that it planned to break the story on 21 September.
He writes: “I looked him in the eye and gave him my word that I had not used the awful toxic language attributed to me. And I do not think that members of the Downing Street inner core believed that I did. The words reek of a bad caricature of what an ill-mannered 1930s upper-class lout might say. Alas, as I was to discover, for much of the media, they fitted the bill perfectly.”
But Mitchell says the prime minister started to doubt him when an account of the incident, supposedly written by a member of the public, was sent to John Randall, his deputy in the whips’ office, on the evening of 21 September. It turned out that the email was sent by a member of the Met’s diplomatic protection group.
The former chief whip writes: “Larded with detail, it gave every appearance of being designed to stand up the police log and the Sun’s splash. It was completely untrue. I was devastated. This was a stitch-up. I heard about the precise wording the next Monday night.”
Mitchell adds: “This vile email – replete with capital letters and mis-spellings – was utterly untrue. The sender is not a member of the public but a serving police officer and member of the diplomatic protection squad, and he was nowhere near Downing Street that night.
“For the next three weeks these awful phrases were hung round my neck in a concerted attempt to toxify the Conservative party and destroy my political career. I never uttered those phrases; they are completely untrue.”
The prime minister told Mitchell he would have to resign after he was briefed on the email. But Mitchell told him: “David, how would you feel in six weeks’ time if this is exposed for the lie it is?” Cameron agreed to give Mitchell a reprieve and to ask Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, to conduct an inquiry.
Heywood reviewed the CCTV footage and decided the email was not consistent with the pictures. But he declined to review the police log on the grounds that it was a matter for the Met.
Mitchell’s supporters pointed out last week that the email was identical to the police log, which did not appear in public until it was leaked to the Daily Telegraph on 24 September, in two key areas. The email and police log both said Mitchell had described the police as “fucking plebs” and they both said “several” people outside the gates witnessed the incident.
The two claims in the police log and the email were challenged last week when Dispatches/Channel 4 News broadcast CCTV footage of the incident.
This showed that only one member of the public was standing outside the gates for any length of time during the incident. The footage also indicates that Mitchell appeared not to be speaking to anyone as he wheeled his bike from the main gates to the pedestrian side entrance in Downing Street – the time he was meant to have called them “fucking plebs”.
Mitchell writes that he eventually decided to resign on 19 October after it became clear he had lost the confidence of a significant section of the 2010 intake of new Tory MPs.