Is 'plebgate' now as big a scandal as the hacking furore?

Michael Crick's devastating account of the 'plebgate' affair is such a brilliantly executed piece of journalism it leaves hanging a number of threads ripe for speculation

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What really happened with Andrew Mitchell?
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Jonathan Bracey Gibbon
On 19 December 2012 14:40

Is it too much to speculate as to whether Thrasher/Plebgate could become as big a scandal as the hacking furore? It is certainly starting to look like Hackgate's younger brother. Michael Crick's devastating account on Channel 4 is such a brilliantly executed piece of journalism it leaves hanging a number of threads ripe for speculation based on some pretty solid fact.

First, but now far from foremost, Andrew Mitchell's loss of temper is now somewhat irrelevant in this case, despite some of those on the left desperately trying to keep his moment of petulance at the centre of the story.

And well they might, as although Mitchell clearly never used the word 'plebs' towards the officers concerned,  Ed Miliband, Yvette Cooper et al were happy to blindly accept the pleb 'accusation' and make it the centrepiece of their attack on the Tories over the summer, while defending the probity of the very police officers whose claims now appear dubious.

But this story now is not only about wanton police lying, it is about a far more sinister politicised activity which may well include elements of the Police Federation, not to mention the press and its relationship with the police, The Telegraph's dubious acquisition of the police log, and The Sun's anti-Cameron agenda. Crick's story reveals not only evidence of falsehood in the police log, but also a covert attempt by elements in the police to corroborate a fiction with the clear intention to dump Mitchell, and the Tories right in it. 

As Crick shows, the fact that Mitchell recorded the highly-publicised clear-the-air meeting with the Police Federation at his Sutton Coldfield constituency office suggests he was suspicious that he was being stitched up at the time.

That recording is devastating in that the Police Federation boss Ken Mackaill is shown to blatantly lie on camera, live on TV after that very meeting, saying Mitchell had not explained what he had said to the officers, when clearly he had. This is contrasted wonderfully with Michael Crick's excruciating probing of Mackaill when presented with the evidence. Of course Mackaill famously demanded Mitchell's resignation that afternoon, a demand immediately echoed by Yvette Cooper.

The bogus eye-witness who wrote to deputy chief whip John Randall, we now know is a police officer based in Randall's Ruislip constituency and who emailed a confection of more lies about invisible crowds outside the gate to Downing St., damning Mitchell fatally. He now admits he wasn't there at all. CCTV evidence bears this out.

Of course the story not only reveals lying union bosses bent on taking on coalition cuts in their budgets and a Labour party in knots having repeated regularly almost as policy what are clearly police lies, but also divisions within the parliamentary Tory party, many of whom were clearly happy to see the end of Mitchell. Indeed Sir Jeremy Heywood's rather feeble enquiry seemed to hasten Thrasher's end only too effectively.

There remain questions over his tenure at DFID following his roasting at the hands of a recent Select Committee hearing into aid to Rwanda, but there was no mistaking the demonstrative support Thrasher received from colleagues in the House yesterday as Cameron announced the IPCC is now conducting a 30-officer strong inquiry to 'get to the truth'.

On the day the Hillsborough verdict was quashed, paving the way for a renewed probe into police lies and cover ups, it seems not only does the police have some tough questions to answer over an attempt to actively destabilise the government through an opportunistic smear campaign, but so does its Federation as it goes into battle with the very government whose essential cuts it seeks to oppose. 

Jonathan Bracey-Gibbon is a freelance journalist who over the past 15 years has written for The Times, the Financial Times, The Sunday Times and Sunday Express

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