After more than a year of detective work, a blizzard of 800 statements and no fewer than eight arrests, it might have been hoped that the Crown Prosecution Service would bring some much-needed clarity to the affair which claimed the job of the Chief Whip and raised fears of a police conspiracy.
But what actually happened when officers stopped Andrew Mitchell from riding his bicycle through the (pedestrian) gates of Downing Street, one afternoon in September 2012, is still shrouded in mystery and contention. That the Tory Cabinet minister swore at his tormentors has never been disputed. It was the allegation that he branded them “plebs” that was consistently denied, fuelling talk of a politically motivated stitch-up.
After months of inquiry and pots of public money, one constable has now – finally – been charged with misconduct in public office. But it is not the one who reported the word “pleb” – an officer who has never been arrested and remains without an official stain on his character. Rather, the defendant is PC Keith Wallis, who allegedly sent an email to Mr Mitchell’s deputy, shortly after the affair, claiming to be a member of the public who witnessed the fracas. Five other officers must also appear before gross misconduct panels and a further three face lesser disciplinary proceedings.
But the central riddle remains unsolved. Indeed, where the balance of probability once tilted slightly in favour of Mr Mitchell – thanks to video footage that appeared to call into question initial police accounts – after scrutinising swathes of previously unseen CCTV footage, the Director of Public Prosecutions has concluded that there is simply not enough evidence either way.
How very unsatisfactory. Not least because, murky or not, one question must still be answered – and that is whether Mr Mitchell ought to return to the Cabinet or not. It is this newspaper’s view that he should. Not because we can be any more sure of his word than that of PC Toby Rowlands’s. Simply because, in the absence of any conclusive evidence of guilt, he must be presumed innocent.