Andrew Mitchell hits back over 'plebgate' row


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Indy Politics

The former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell hit back today in the row over his clash with police officers at Downing Street’s gates, insisting the official police record of the altercation was false.

He spoke out after a police officer was arrested on suspicion of misconduct in public office over the leak to newspaper of details about the fracas, which led to Mr Mitchell’s resignation in October.

According to accounts of the incident, he allegedly described an officer who stopped him from wheeling his bicycle out of the gates as either a “pleb” or a “moran”

On quitting, Mr Mitchell insisted in a letter to David Cameron that he had not used either word, but admitted delivering the parting line: “I thought you guys were supposed to f****** help us."

Leaving his London home this morning, he said: “I'd just like to reiterate once again, that it's the contents of the alleged police log which are false... they are false and I want to make that very clear.”

The Prime Minister's spokesman said: “At the time we said there was a genuine difference of opinion. Clearly this is something the police are dealing with and I don't think I want to get drawn into further comment.”

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about the arrest of the whistle-blower, the spokesman added: “That arrest is a matter for the Metropolitan Police.”

Scotland Yard said that on Thursday the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) received fresh information regarding the alleged unauthorised disclosure of information.

As the result of this the Directorate of Professional Standards arrested a police constable in the Diplomatic Protection Group, on suspicion of misconduct in a public office, at 8.15pm on Saturday. He was bailed yesterday morning to return in January. He has been suspended from duty.

The matter will be formally referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission today.

The Yard's statement said the arrest was linked to previous inquiries by the MPS as to how internal information was obtained by national newspapers following an incident at Downing Street in September.

"These inquiries found no evidence to suggest any of the officers involved in the incident were involved in the unauthorised release of information. The officer arrested was not on duty at the time of the incident in Downing Street.”

When he resigned Mr Mitchell admitted the row over the incident made his position untenable.

He said it was not fair to put his colleagues and family through such "damaging" stories any longer.

He had clung desperately to his position amid a mounting clamour lasting a month for him to go.

Mr Mitchell did not attend the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham - neighbouring his Sutton Coldfield constituency - after admitting his presence would be a distraction.

He sought - and failed - to win over Police Federation members by meeting them in his constituency and trying to explain his actions.

He told Mr Cameron: "I have made clear to you - and I give you my categorical assurance again - that I did not, never have, and never would call a police officer a 'pleb' or a 'moron' or used any of the other pejorative descriptions attributed to me."

But he accepted it was "obviously wrong of me to use such bad language and I am very sorry about it and grateful to the police officer for accepting my apology".

Mr Cameron said he was sorry to receive Mr Mitchell's letter but added: "I understand why you have reached the conclusion that you have, and why you have decided to resign from the Government.

"I regret that this has become necessary, and am very grateful for all you have done, both in Government and in opposition."

Former minister David Mellor said it was "good news" that the police finally seemed to be taking leaks to the media seriously.

"What happened in the Mitchell case was a serious breach of duty with not only the full details of police reports being leaked, but the actual documents being handed over to newspapers," he said.

"This was disgraceful. The question has to be asked, what took them so long?"

Mr Mellor said he would be watching "with interest" to see whether the arrest would be taken further, and whether it would change "deeply ingrained" behaviour among the police.