The eyewitness account which led to the resignation of former Tory Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell has been called into question amidst claims that it may have been false.
In September, Mitchell was alleged to have been involved in an altercation with Metropolitan police officers on duty at the Downing Street gates when they directed him to wheel his bike through a side gate. He was later forced to resign after a witness claimed he had called the police officers 'fucking plebs'. Mitchell has never denied swearing but says he did not use the word 'plebs'.
The witness, an officer in the diplomatic protection group, was arrested at the weekend on suspicion of misconduct in public office. A joint Channel 4/Dispatches investigation claims that the officer masqueraded as a member of the public, and later denied he was even present when the Mitchell vs Met altercation occurred. While the Met say there's no conspiracy involved, Mitchell clearly doesn't agree:
"It's very convincing unless you know it's untrue as I do and it was clearly aimed to destabilise me and finish me off by sending it into the heart of government to my deputy and could easily have done so very fast.
There were three phrases above all which were hung around my neck for the following 28 days every day in the press which were used to destroy my political career and were used to toxify the Conservative Party."
While swearing at officers is bad manners and unbecoming in the Chief Whip, the resultant fall-out from the 'pleb' accusations was pretty convenient for anyone wanting to reinforce the whole Tory 'posh boy' sobriquet. The Met's reputation isn't all that either — the Tomlinson inquiry demonstrated some less than transparent practices while Leveson also directed criticism their way over the phone hacking scandal. Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe doesn't believe the allegations undermine the original 'facts', saying,
“I don’t think, in terms of what I’ve heard up to now, that it’s really affected the original account of the officers at the scene.”
Though the original account could face some scrutiny if the witness statement does turn out to be fabricated. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it has received a referral from the Met and had will pursue the investigation.
Photo by outlandk in the Londonist Flickr pool.