Cameron rounds on police over 'plebgate' affair

U-turn after Andrew Mitchell's friends accuse PM of not defending ex-minister from officer's 'lies'

David Cameron was last night forced into an extraordinary attack on the police, as he leapt to the defence of Andrew Mitchell over the "plebgate" affair.

The Prime Minister said he was "deeply shocked" that a serving police officer was being investigated for "lying" about the incident at the gates of Downing Street which later led to the resignation of his then Chief Whip.

Mr Cameron belatedly rushed to support the former cabinet minister after friends of Mr Mitchell accused the Prime Minister of leaving him "swinging in the wind" by failing to release CCTV footage that would have helped his case. And last night Mr Mitchell broke his silence by condemning elements in the police for a "sustained attempt to toxify the Tory party and destroy my career".

In an unprecedented statement from a PM about the police, Mr Cameron made clear his concern at the "fabricated evidence" and "lying" allegations that contributed to Mr Mitchell's downfall. While the words were directed at the police officer who posed as an ordinary member of the public who claimed the MP had called police "plebs", they will also put pressure on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, for standing by the official police version of events.

But Mr Cameron also tried to fend off stinging criticism from Mr Mitchell's camp, who are enraged at the way the Prime Minister had failed to defend him fully. Mr Cameron's allies believe Mr Mitchell, who resigned as Chief Whip in October after weeks of pressure, could pose a danger to the Conservative Party as a disgruntled MP trying to clear his name from the back benches.

The statement was issued by Downing Street in a damage-limitation exercise on behalf of Mr Cameron, who had already departed for Chequers to spend Christmas with his family. It followed a devastating attack by friends of Mr Mitchell, who accused the PM of a lapse of judgement in not releasing the footage.

A No 10 spokesman said: "The Prime Minister has deep sympathy for Andrew Mitchell after allegations emerged that a serving police officer fabricated evidence against him. The Prime Minister stood behind his Chief Whip through weeks of growing demands to sack him. It was only when it became clear that he could no longer do his job that his resignation was accepted with reluctance. Andrew Mitchell did not disagree with the Prime Minister's approach throughout this period. The Prime Minister, and Andrew Mitchell, were deeply shocked to be informed that the police were investigating allegations that a serving police officer had lied about the events."

Mr Mitchell told The Sunday Telegraph: "These awful toxic phrases which were hung round my neck for weeks and weeks in a sustained attempt to toxify the Conservative Party and destroy my career were completely and totally untrue. I never said them. If you had told me on 19 September that the events revealed last week could take place in Britain today, I simply would not have believed you."

The row sparked back into life last week when Channel 4's Dispatches released CCTV footage showing that there were no members of the public to witness Mr Mitchell's altercation with police as he tried to cycle through the Downing Street gates on 19 September. This directly contradicted evidence given in an email from a "member of the public" who claimed to have witnessed Mr Mitchell calling the officers "plebs" – which the MP has always denied. It was then revealed that the email had been sent by a serving police officer. Mr Hogan-Howe announced that 30 officers are now investigating the incident, which is being monitored by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It emerged yesterday that Mr Cameron had viewed the footage, yet still allowed Mr Mitchell to resign when his presence in the Cabinet became too toxic.

A close friend of Mr Mitchell described the No 10 response to the affair as "amateur hour", telling the Daily Mail: "It is just extraordinary they did not release something that could have knocked down the central piece of evidence against him. All they had to do was release 30 seconds of footage. To trade that against a wish not to upset the police seems to me to put expediency so far ahead of a sense of morality as to be mindblowing. It raises serious questions about Cameron's judgement. The approach was to leave this swinging in the wind rather than raise serious questions with the police."

The Downing Street statement went much further than Mr Cameron's words in the Commons on Wednesday, in which he cautiously expressed a wish for the matter to be investigated properly. His delay in coming to Mr Mitchell's defence, and failing to release the footage to Mr Mitchell sooner, raises questions over his judgement.

In a separate development yesterday, the Police Federation of England and Wales announced that an independent panel would review its "structure" under its new chairman, Steve Williams, who takes up his post in the New Year, amid concern that elements of the union were involved in a conspiracy to get at Mr Mitchell and, in turn, Mr Cameron, over police cuts.

The Dispatches programme revealed not only the CCTV footage, but also a tape of the meeting between Mr Mitchell and members of the West Midlands Police Federation. The MP, in his office in his Sutton Coldfield constituency, told the West Midlands officers the full details of what he had said at the gates – for the first time. But minutes later, the officers emerged calling on him to quit and claiming he had said nothing new. These differing accounts have also enraged Mr Mitchell, say friends.

Spinning wheels

3 September Andrew Mitchell appointed Chief Whip.

19 September Mr Mitchell allegedly calls Downing Street police officers "plebs" during argument over whether he could ride his bike out through the gates.

20 September The row escalates into a crisis after details are revealed in The Sun. Deputy Chief Whip John Randall receives emailed complaint over Mr Mitchell's behaviour.

21 September Mr Mitchell apologises for being disrespectful to police – but denies using the word "plebs".

4 October Mr Mitchell pulls out of Tory conference amid growing complaints about his alleged behaviour.

12 October Mr Mitchell attempts to defuse the row by meeting representatives of the Police Federation. They later claim his position is untenable.

19 October Mr Mitchell resigns.

15 December Police officer arrested on suspicion of misconduct.

18 December CCTV coverage casts doubt on police officers' version of events.

19 December Man aged 23 arrested.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: £20000 - £25000 per annum + c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a number ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Sales Consultant - OTE £45,000

£15000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for an exci...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food