Has anyone got a good word to say about Andrew Mitchell?
As his apology for his police rant backfires, civil servants label the Chief Whip 'aggressive and cantankerous'. Oliver Wright reports
Andrew Mitchell's attempt to draw a line under his foul-mouthed rant at a Downing Street police officer appeared to backfire yesterday as he was accused of impugning the integrity of the police and more allegations emerged of his high-handed treatment of civil servants.
In his first public appearance since the altercation became public, the Tory Chief Whip said he wanted to apologise for not showing the police the "amount of respect" they deserved – but insisted he did not "use the words" attributed to him. His denial that he had called the Downing Street protection officers "plebs" enraged rank-and-file police.
"Mr Mitchell is effectively now impugning the integrity of the police officers," said John Tully, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation. "I think that is very serious. I think the Prime Minister or Downing Street officials should hold an inquiry and if Mr Mitchell is proved to have lied, then he should be sacked."
The Prime Minister later expressed his confidence in Mr Mitchell, and the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, refused to conduct an investigation into the confrontation despite calls from Labour to do so. Sir Jeremy said he agreed with David Cameron that there would not be "any purpose" in an inquiry. However, he said he had spoken to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, who was "very disappointed at the lack of respect shown" to the police.
It also emerged yesterday that senior officials in the Department for International Relations, where Mr Mitchell worked before the reshuffle, had privately raised concerns about his behaviour. Mr Mitchell, the Tory MP for Sutton Coldfield, is said to have told his Permanent Secretary that he expected male officials in his department to wear jackets and ties at all times and wanted to be addressed as "Secretary of State".
When told that, owing to the nature of the department's work, formal clothes were not always practical, he insisted that at the very least ties should be worn by everyone at meetings he attended. Despite his diktats, Mr Mitchell himself was said to sometimes hold meetings in his office without any shoes and still wearing his bicycle clips.
He is also said to have preferred a particular coffee cup bearing the words: "Secretary of State for International Development".
"He could be cantankerous and aggressive," said one official. "He was respected because of the generous financial settlement the department got in the spending review, but he was a horrible person to do business with."
Another source said there was an "impromptu celebration" when news of Mr Mitchell's departure was announced. A spokesman for the department said there had never been "any formal complaint" against Mr Mitchell.
In an attempt to draw a line under the saga, Mr Mitchell apologised yesterday for his outburst – but stopped short of admitting using the words alleged. Speaking as he arrived for work in Whitehall, Mr Mitchell said: "It had been the end of a long and extremely frustrating day – not that that is any excuse at all for what happened. I didn't show the police the amount of respect I should have. We should all respect the police – they do an incredibly difficult job. I have apologised to the police, I have apologised to the officer involved on the gate and he's accepted my apology and I hope very much that we can draw a line under it there."
Asked if he called the officers "plebs", he said: "I am very clear about what I said and what I didn't say. I want to make it absolutely clear I did not use the words that have been attributed to me."
However, a transcript of the police officers' report of the incident appears in the Daily Telegraph. It indicates that Mr Mitchell did indeed call the officers "plebs", as well as swearing.
WHAT THE OFFICER SAW: THE POLICE REPORT OF THE CONFRONTATION
Whilst on duty... I had to deal with a man claiming to be the Chief Whip and who I later confirmed to be such and a Mr Andrew Mitchell. Mr Mitchell was... demanding exit through the main vehicle gate into Whitehall. PC ******** explained to Mr Mitchell that the policy was for pedal cycles to use the side pedestrian exit. Mr Mitchell refused, stating he was the Chief Whip and he always used the main gates.
I explained to Mr Mitchell that the policy was to use the side pedestrian gates and that I was happy to open those for him, but that no officer present would be opening the main gates as this was the policy we were directed to follow.
Mr Mitchell refused. Repeatedly reiterating he was the Chief Whip. My exact explanation to Mr Mitchell was: 'I am more than happy to open the side pedestrian gate for you, sir, but it is policy that we are not to allow cycles through the main vehicle entrance.'
After several refusals, Mr Mitchell got off his bike and walked to the pedestrian gate with me after I again offered to open that for him.
There were several members of public present, as is the norm opposite the pedestrian gate, and as we neared it, Mr Mitchell said: 'Best you learn your f****** place ... you don't run this f****** government ... you're f****** plebs.'
The members of public looked visibly shocked and I was somewhat taken aback by the language used and the view expressed by a senior government official. I cannot say if this statement was aimed at me individually, or the officers present or the police service as a whole. I warned Mr Mitchell that he should not swear, and if he continued to do so I would have no option but to arrest him under the Public Order Act, saying: "Please don't swear at me, sir. If you continue to, I will have no option but to arrest you under the Public Order Act." Mr Mitchell was then silent and left saying "you haven't heard the last of this" as he cycled off.
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