Andrew Mitchell’s ‘Plebgate’ tirade became all too believable

Andrew Mitchell is now, finally, beginning to feel vindicated. Will we ever find out what really happened that day?

by Robert Smith on 20 December 2012 14:27

Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, insisted “There is more to this than meets the eye” on the Andrew Mitchell ‘Plebgate’ affair. As the saga unravels, it’s one of the few things we can be certain of.

CCTV footage exposed by Michael Crick of Channel 4 News on Tuesday night casted new doubt on the validity of the claim made by the police and an apparent witness present at the scene on Downing Street.

It turns out that a police officer pretended to be a witness at the scene, emailing his local MP (coincidentally the Deputy Chief Whip John Randall) in support of the allegation that the former Chief Whip called police officers serving at the gates “plebs”. Furthermore, his claim in the email that a crowd outside the gates of Number 10 were visibly shocked at Mitchell’s outburst has now come into disrepute after the CCTV footage shows the pavement to be empty bar the presence of a single lone pedestrian.

The footage may not prove, beyond doubt, that Mitchell did not call police officers “plebs” but it does suggest dishonesty somewhere along the line. If witnesses were willing to concoct the presence of a crowd outside the gates of Downing Street, then they equally may have been willing to fabricate the words used by Mitchell.

Why would the police officer want to manufacture a witness? Perhaps, at best, he simply wanted to add legitimacy to the story, albeit a false one, to ensure the tirade became public knowledge.

At the very worst, he may have been part of a political stitch-up aiming to bring down a senior Tory at a time when the police, particularly its representative body the Police Federation, stands at loggerheads with the government. The Labour Party similarly used the saga to its political advantage. It was therefore no surprise that Ed Miliband decided to steer clear of the story at PMQs on Wednesday.

Conservative MP Rob Wilson raised the issue, but in truth the uncertainty still surrounding what really happened meant it was too early for Cameron to use the new findings to enact political revenge. A police inquiry will aim to shed further light on the issue, but might not be entirely conclusive.

Andrew Mitchell, however, is beginning to feel vindicated, having protested his innocence from the start, at least in relation to using the word ‘pleb’. That being said, Mitchell himself now admits in hindsight to making mistakes in his responses to the scandal. His staggered defence, apologising for swearing but simultaneously denying the use of certain words attributed to him, appeared to be a confused, even dishonest, reaction. It now seems a rather straightforward reply.

The problem for Mitchell at the time when the story broke was that it became all too easy to imagine him ranting the exact words he had been accused of. In a case of one man’s word against another, it’s no surprise that the public and the media would side with the policeman over the politician.

That the government’s policing policies have been so poorly received by the police did not help, but more so, the Police Federation and political opponents of the government relished the opportunity to portray Andrew ‘Thrasher’ Mitchell as an “arrogant, posh boy” Tory, wielding out the p-word at any opportunity to ensure it remained in the public’s conscience. If you tell a lie long enough and loud enough, people will eventually start to believe it...

In calling for Mitchell to resign, some, myself included, were too quick to accept the prevailing narrative which made the allegations all too believable. In light of the new CCTV footage, it seems we may had been placing too much trust in the police, and far too little in the politician.

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