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.

News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible