Andrew Mitchell ‘plebgate’ scandal: Is it possible that police behaved this dishonestly?

The allegation they smeared a political target is extraordinary

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I have shown all the consistency of lumpy porridge on the subject of Andrew Mitchell. To start with, I was sympathetic to a fellow cyclist told to go the inconvenient way round. Especially as the gates would have been opened for Mitchell had he been in a metal box on wheels.

Then I thought that, on balance, he should have resigned as chief whip. I thought that swearing to a police officer, which he admitted, was a mistake that would make it hard to demand discipline of his fellow MPs.

Never mind all that. The behaviour of the police appears to have been so shocking that I would support Mitchell’s reinstatement to any post he wants, and I hope that any police officer found to have tried to stitch up an elected politician is taken to the cleaners.

The Prime Minister was categorical today about the conduct of the three representatives of the Police Federation who visited Mitchell in his constituency after the disputed conversation at the gates of Downing Street. They came out of that meeting saying that he had been unclear about the original incident, but because Mitchell had recorded their meeting, David Cameron said, we know that “what the police officers said is untrue”. He said their “conduct was not acceptable”.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister all say that the officers who visited Mitchell should face misconduct charges - which I would have thought would be the least of it - but their force, West Mercia, refuses to take any action.

What is also unacceptable is the delay in the Metropolitan police investigation into what actually happened in Downing Street more than a year ago. Yet what has been established so far about the police version of events is enough to suggest that criminal charges could have been brought long ago. The CCTV footage of the interchange, which is now publicly available, does not allow for the length of dialogue reported in the police log, and the story of the email from a claimed witness who turned out to be an off-duty police officer who wasn’t there is simply extraordinary.

This is far more important than a moment of grumpiness more than a year ago. It is more important even than the career of one minister which has been damaged, even if he is eventually brought back into government. The implication is that police officers set out dishonestly to destroy a political target. This surely cannot be true, and it is astonishing that the leaders of the forces concerned are not dropping everything in their haste to show that it is untrue.

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