Plebgate: David Cameron knew Andrew Mitchell evidence was suspect three months ago

PM refused to press issue with Met police even though it could have saved Chief Whip’s job, as details of secret talks emerge

David Cameron has known for almost three months that at least one member of his own élite protection unit may have fabricated parts of the Downing Street police log about the confrontation with Andrew Mitchell, The Independent understands.

Weeks before the former Chief Whip fell on his sword, the Prime Minister was alerted to vital inconsistencies between CCTV footage of the altercation and a police officer’s log of the incident leaked to the media.

The evidence was enough to persuade Mr Cameron to stand by Mr Mitchell despite the public clamour for his resignation.

But, crucially, the Prime Minister decided not to press the matter with the Metropolitan Police – fearing that it would poison relations with the elite group of policemen who guard senior politicians.

Speaking today on a visit to Afghanistan Mr Cameron said he took “full responsibility” for the Downing Street investigation.

He also revealed that he had met Mr Mitchell the night before a Channel 4 news and Dispatches investigation broadcast the CCTV evidence which suggested the police account of the altercation was flawed.

“I saw him in Number 10. I spoke to him and my office has been in contact with him, as you would expect, fairly regularly,” he said.

Asked what frame of mind Mr Mitchell was in, Mr Cameron replied: “I thought his mood was very calm and rational given what were very disturbing revelations.”

Mr Cameron did not rule out a return to Government by Mr Mitchell in the future.

“One step at a time. Let's get to the truth about what happened,” he said.

“But I think it has been an extraordinary development, frankly, to find a police officer apparently posing as a member of the public, pretending to have been outside Downing Street at the time and then trying to blacken the name of a Cabinet minister.”

The Independent has pieced together the chronology of events following the 19 September altercation in Downing Street – and Mr Cameron’s significant behind-the-scenes role in the affair.

When Mr Cameron was first alerted to an email from a supposed member of the public who witnessed the now infamous “Plebgate” altercation, he called in Mr Mitchell with the intention not of asking him to resign – but of sacking him on the spot.

But such were Mr Mitchell’s denials that the incident had been anything like that described in the email or the accounts given by police that the Prime Minister agreed to stay the execution.

Instead, he agreed that Sue Gray, Downing Street’s director of propriety and ethics, would work under the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, independently to examine the Downing Street and Foreign Office CCTV logs to see whether they could substantiate the accounts of either Mr Mitchell or the policemen.

What Ms Gray and Sir Jeremy found when they watched the tapes not only appeared to back Mr Mitchell’s version of events, but raised the prospect that the officers involved had embellished a key part of their account. Far from there being members of the public looking on “shocked” at the incident, the street outside the gates was almost deserted – with just a couple of individuals passing but not lingering.

The Independent understands Ms Gray and Sir Jeremy alerted Mr Cameron to what they had found – and he himself watched the tapes.

But a decision was taken by the Prime Minister not to pursue the matter with police commanders or make the CCTV footage public. Instead he agreed a compromise: he would back Mr Mitchell to stay in his job but would allow the discrepancies the footage revealed to go unchallenged.

The revelations raise questions for the Met Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, who backed the officers involved in the confrontation following the arrest.

Scotland Yard has launched an inquiry with 30 officers looking into the leaks of the official police log to The Daily Telegraph and the possibility of a wider criminal conspiracy to bring down the former Chief Whip.

Responding to the new revelations yesterday, the Prime Minister said allegations that a police officer posed as a member of the public and fabricated evidence to damage the then-Chief Whip were “extraordinary”.

Mr Cameron, who is visiting Afghanistan, was asked in interviews whether Mr Mitchell could make a comeback. “One step at a time. Let’s get to the truth about what happened,” he said.

“But I think it has been an extraordinary development, frankly, to find a police officer apparently posing as a member of the public, pretending to have been outside Downing Street at the time and then trying to blacken the name of a cabinet minister.”

Keith Vaz, the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, questioned whether the inquiry should be carried out by one of the police watchdogs. In his letter to Mr Hogan-Howe, he asked why the leaked log appeared to be in conflict with CCTV evidence. Scotland Yard did not dispute the authenticity of the leaked log yesterday.

The man arrested yesterday was held on suspicion of “intentionally encouraging or assisting the commission of an indictable offence on or around 14 December” and bailed until January. Scotland Yard declined to go into further detail but 14 December was a day after new material on “Plebgate” was passed to the force, and one day before the arrest of an officer from the diplomatic protection group on suspicion of misconduct in public office.

That arrest related to the sending of an email to one of Mr Mitchell’s deputies, purportedly from a member of the public, but who was in fact a serving Met police officer.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Voices
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
election 2015Armando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
News
i100
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power