In the days following his resignation as Conservative Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell suffered from depression, panic attacks and almost stepped down as an MP, friends disclosed yesterday.
“He was waking up in the middle of the night with the events playing over and over again in his head,” said one.
“He thought his reputation was ruined forever. When he was out in public he thought everyone was looking at him and thinking ‘there goes that lying toff’.”
It was his wife Sharon, a GP, who persuaded him that despite having resigned he should still do all he could to clear his name.
Political friends suggested that he should try and get access to the CCTV footage of the night which, under the Data Protection Act, he had a right to see.
Before he resigned he had been told by Downing Street officials that the footage was inconclusive, as it was impossible to make out what had been said. But given the very specific allegations in the leaked Downing Street police log – might it be possible to undermine the case being made against him?
The request went in and, along with a friend, he went to the Cabinet Office to watch the footage with Sue Gray, the Government’s Director of Propriety and Ethics, who along with Sir Jeremy Heywood, had originally been asked to investigate the allegations. “She was very helpful and kind,” the friend said. “But he still put himself through torture doing it – it brought it all up again watching the films.”
But what the films showed did in fact cast serious questions over the police version of events. Not only were there very few people outside Downing Street – and certainly no one lingering and watching the confrontation – but there appeared to be other discrepancies as well.
“You could clearly see Andrew pushing his bicycle towards and out through the pedestrian gate and he doesn’t seem to be even looking at the policeman. But if you accept the police log then supposedly at that point the officer is threatening him with arrest. It just doesn’t seem very likely.”
Mr Mitchell was able to secure copies of the CCTV footage, which he took to the chief political correspondent of Channel 4 News Michael Crick.
Crick began investigating and along with the emails from the purported member of the public also in Mr Mitchell’s possession, they began to uncover the alleged conspiracy that led to the arrest.
“This was always about three things,” said the friend. “Clearing Andrew’s name, restoring his self-respect and getting him back into Government. I think we’ve pretty much done the first two but the last one is not down to us.”