Nick Clegg: Andrew Mitchell should keep his job

Lib Dem conference

Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell's chances of clinging on to his job were bolstered today when Nick Clegg suggested he should be allowed to “draw a line” under his verbal attack on Downing Street police.

The Deputy Prime Minister said the Tory enforcer had been "wrong" to lose his temper when officers stopped him riding his bike through the main gates outside Number 10.

But he said if no new revelations emerged about the confrontation Mr Mitchell should be able to remain in his post.

Mr Clegg told the BBC's Andrew Marr show: "Unless something comes to light about the rival versions, about what was and what was not said that I don't know about, I think he should apologise in full - he's done that, that's right - and draw a line under it in that way."

Told that the alleged used of the word "pleb" had caused most anger, Mr Clegg replied: "Of course, of course and he has apologised for it and quite right too."

The Liberal Democrat leader added: "I think civility, being courteous to the police is important at all times but of course it is especially important given the tragic events, the killing of Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes.

"What Andrew Mitchell did was wrong, very wrong. He knows that and he has apologised to the police and explained himself.

"They (the public) are angry and I can understand that they think it is just plain wrong to be discourteous and rude to the police, who are only doing their job after all."

It comes after claims the Chief Whip admits swearing at No 10 police officers but insists he did not call them "plebs".

The Tory enforcer concedes that he said "f******" when a member of Scotland Yard's Diplomatic Protection Group, SO6, refused to let him cycle out through the main Downing Street gates, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

Mr Mitchell is alleged to have said: "Look, I'm the chief whip, I work at Number 9 (Downing Street)," before muttering: "You guys are supposed to f****** help us."

A friend of the minister told the newspaper: "He does not dispute he lost it a bit.

"It was in frustration at the episode and not aimed directly at the officers. It was the fourth time he had been at Downing Street that day - he is frequently allowed to use the main gate on his bike.

"He is absolutely not accusing anyone of lying."

When allegations about the tirade were published on Friday, Mr Mitchell issued a statement denying using "any of the words that have been reported".

The friend added: "He realises there may be differing versions of what was said but he is adamant he did not use the words he is reported to have used."

Mr Mitchell has faced calls to resign over the angry rant, which proved acutely embarrassing for Prime Minister David Cameron when details emerged as he headed to Manchester on Friday to pay his respects to murdered Pcs Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone.

John Tully, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, has called on Mr Mitchell to quit over his "abusive" outburst.

Mr Mitchell, a keen cyclist, was reported by the Sun to also have called the police "morons".

"Best you learn your f****** place. You don't run this f****** Government. You're f****** plebs," it reported him as saying.

In a statement on Friday the Tory, who was also a minister under John Major in the early 1990s, said: "On Wednesday night I attempted to leave Downing Street via the main gate, something I have been allowed to do many times before.

"I was told that I was not allowed to leave that way. While I do not accept that I used any of the words that have been reported, I accept I did not treat the police with the respect they deserve.

"I have seen the supervising sergeant and apologised, and will also apologise to the police officer involved."

Tory Communities Secretary Eric Pickles admitted Mr Mitchell had been wrong but said he should not lose his job for having a "bad temper".

"I think it would be wrong to say that either party is lying, but what is very clear is that Andrew Mitchell used ungentlemanly and ungallant language which he regrets and he has apologised both to the police and to the Prime Minister," Mr Pickles told the BBC's Sunday Politics.

The Cabinet minister said the chief whip was "very clear he did not use the word pleb".

"I cannot recall Mr Mitchell in the time that I've been with him ever using such a word," he added. "He has never used it in my presence, but then I am very proud myself to be a pleb."

Mr Pickles went on: "I think Andrew now should be given the opportunity to start the process of being a good chief whip... I don't believe somebody should lose public office merely because they use inappropriate words and showed bad temper.

"Here we have a guy on a bicycle who lost his rag."

Labour has written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood calling for Downing Street to release in full accounts of what was said as well as investigate the incident.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "We now know that Andrew Mitchell swore at police officers who were doing their job protecting Downing Street.

"This is completely unacceptable behaviour from a Cabinet Minister, and a half hearted private apology is clearly insufficient. Given the justified anger and concern from police officers of all ranks, Mr Mitchell should apologise publicly immediately.

"But Downing Street also need to make sure there is now a proper investigation by the Cabinet Secretary into this incident and release in full what was said. Andrew Mitchell's account of what went on is unravelling day by day and we need to know exactly what happened.

"Everyone is already deeply concerned that a senior Cabinet Minister is reported as dismissing police officers doing an important security job as "plebs".

"It is really important that the Prime Minister does not compound this by dismissing the testimony of police officers and the evidence from their notebooks without proper investigation.

"From the reports we have seen it appears that either the Chief Whip used very offensive language to dismiss an officer on duty and has not told the public the full story.

"Or alternatively Mr Mitchell and the Prime Minister are saying the testimony of police officers who protect Downing Street cannot be trusted or should be ignored. Either of those alternatives are extremely serious which is why this needs to be fully investigated. David Cameron cannot dismiss this incident and hope it goes away."