The Plebgate affair: The cold revenge of Andrew Mitchell

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The PM was quick to accept his Chief Whip's resignation, but a staunch defence by the MP's friends, plus vindicating CC TV footage, have forced a change of heart

In his letter accepting Andrew Mitchell's resignation on 19 October, David Cameron wrote "I regret it has become necessary" for the Chief Whip to leave the Cabinet over his altercation with police at the gates of Downing Street.

His tone was cool and businesslike, concluding: "As you have acknowledged, the incident in Downing Street was not acceptable and you were right to apologise for it."

Yet it is now known that, at the time, the Prime Minister had, along with his Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, viewed CCTV footage that blew a hole in the police's version of events. Mr Cameron knew there was a discrepancy between the grainy footage, revealing no public witnesses, and an email forwarded by John Randall, the Deputy Chief Whip, from a "witness" – now revealed to be a police officer – claiming the minister had shouted very loudly at police, calling them "plebs".

The difference had clearly persuaded the Prime Minister to stand by Mr Mitchell in the early weeks of the "plebgate" affair. But Mr Cameron, it seems, did not feel inclined to dig further to get to the bottom of who had sent the email that, he admitted at PMQs last Wednesday, "blackened" the name of a cabinet minister.

If he had, Mr Mitchell's allies say, he could have been firmer in insisting the minister hang on to his job. He could have released the footage to Mr Mitchell before he resigned, giving him the ammunition to clear his name.

The Prime Minister, amid the pre-Christmas excitement of his children at Chequers yesterday, took time to sanction an extraordinary statement from Downing Street which suggested he regrets not saving Mr Mitchell from his cabinet departure.

In the statement, Mr Cameron at once threw a protective arm around Mr Mitchell, while also squaring up to the police. The premier perhaps noted the threatening words of Mr Mitchell's friends, who accused Mr Cameron of leaving him to "swing in the wind". But it was also a display of typical pragmatism from the PM: just like he had waited until Mr Mitchell's situation looked beyond hope before accepting his resignation, he was now leaping to the MP's defence because there were serious doubts about the police story.

Mr Cameron knows that Mr Mitchell, and his allies, including his close friend David Davis, can be a powerful threat. When Mr Cameron and Mr Davis were rivals in the 2005 Tory leadership contest, it was the older MP who expected to win. The Davis camp, including Mr Mitchell, his campaign chief, ran a fierce race. A friend of Mr Cameron said: "The PM respects Andrew, but it is a respect learnt through being on different sides of the battle in 2005. Does Cameron fear him? He knows he is well-organised, let's put it like that."

To many Cameron allies, the Mitchell affair has been a long-running debacle, of which "plebgate" is only the latest act. The PM is, even for many of his admirers, paying the price for a series of miscalculations.

One Tory MP said: "David [Cameron] was under no obligation to give him a job, but he did – and it was against the advice of a number of people he'd normally listen to. He put him in the Cabinet as some sort of grand gesture, something about a 'big tent' strategy, and it's been causing him problems ever since."

Mr Mitchell always insisted he had never used the word "pleb". He admitted to swearing at police officers, which is borne out by the police log. But the log also records the word "pleb", and it was that dispute which allowed the row to continue for a month. Now Mr Mitchell feels exonerated, partly, because the fake witness email clearly shows a concerted campaign to "stitch him up". The MP is determined to clear his name fully by questioning the police log, and to get back into the Cabinet. He is exacting revenge on the police who dared to block his bicycle, but he also seems determined to force Mr Cameron to unlock the gates of Downing Street and beg him to return. The strength of the attack by his allies yesterday, and the PM's response – to rush to his support – shows who has the upper hand here.

Last Monday Mr Cameron did open the No 10 gates to Mr Mitchell – to meet him to discuss the CCTV footage that was to be broadcast by Channel 4 the next day. The Prime Minister told journalists on a visit to Afghanistan on Friday that the ex-minister was "calm and rational given what were very disturbing revelations" – already trying to smooth ruffled feathers.

And there were signs last night that there is more to come out in this murky affair. The journalist Charles Moore, who knows Mr Mitchell well, suggested that a political insider had been involved in the "stitch up". Moore wrote in The Daily Telegraph: "Who except a political insider would know that the Deputy Chief Whip, John Randall, has a reputation for not getting on with Mr Mitchell? Who but a political or media operator would have the idea of setting up one of Mr Randall's constituents to send him an email pretending to be... a concerned member of the public?"

In his letter of 19 October, Mr Cameron wrote that he hoped Mr Mitchell would "be able to make a further contribution to public life". It now seems that the Prime Minister has little choice but to allow his return.

What are the facts?

THE INCIDENT

What we know

Andrew Mitchell swore at police as he attempted to ride his bike through the gates of Downing Street on 19 September.

What we don't know

He insists he didn't say "pleb"; two police officers present who wrote the official log say he did.

What we need to know

Who is telling the truth – the MP or the police officers? The official log says there was an angry altercation, but CCTV footage suggests Mr Mitchell was calm.

THE EMAIL

What we know

Someone claiming to be a member of the public sent an email to John Randall, Mr Mitchell's deputy, saying they had witnessed the MP calling officers "plebs". The author is actually a third serving police officer, and has now been arrested.

What we don't know

Who is the 23-year-old man arrested on suspicion of helping the third officer? Was anyone else involved?

What we need to know

How did the third officer and his alleged accomplice know that Mr Randall would be the best person to contact? How did they know that Mr Mitchell do not get on?

THE PRIME MINISTER

What we know

David Cameron and Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood saw the CCTV footage before Mr Mitchell's resignation in October and decided it undermined the case made in the email by the "member of the public". But they did not show it to Mr Mitchell.

What we don't know

Did the PM take any more steps to get to the bottom of the incident?

What we need to know

Why didn't No 10 confront the police officers on duty? If the PM realised the CCTV undermined the email, why didn't he fight to save Mr Mitchell?

THE POLICE

What we know

Met commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe backed the official log last week, but now says he is awaiting the outcome of the police investigation.

What we don't know

How far up the chain of command in the police was there a coordinated attempt to "blacken" the name of a Cabinet minister?

What we need to know

Why was there such a concerted effort to bring down Mr Mitchell? Were there political participants too? Was Mr Mitchell being used to get at Mr Cameron? Why did the West Midlands, West Mercia and Warwickshire police federation representatives say they were told nothing new when they met Mr Mitchell in his constituency, when he had given them new and full details of what he said?

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on