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PM accused of leaving Andrew Mitchell 'swinging in the wind' instead of taking on police over 'unreliable' plebgate evidence
Prime Minister says he had doubts about claims against his Chief Whip three months agoAndrew Mitchell lets it be known he has 'no confidence' in Scotland Yard chief Bernard Hogan HowePolice Federation admits mistakes in stoking 'pleb' row
17:38 GMT, 21 December 2012
Former Chief Whip has lost confidence in the head of the Met Police in the growing row over the investigation into his stand-off with Downing Street officers
David Cameron is under growing pressure about why he failed to publicly challenge the police over the plebgate affair when doubts about the police's account emerged three months ago.
Downing Street identified inconsistencies between claims Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell called police 'f****** plebs' in a row in September, but was reluctant to question Scotland Yard's account.
The Prime Minister held talks with Mr Mitchell this week amid a growing row about why Number 10 did not do more to challenge police claims against the former chief whip.
Today Mr Cameron admitted there is 'a lot of sympathy' for his former Chief Whip.
Mr Mitchell resigned from government a month after ranting at police officers who told him he could not ride his bike through the gates of Downing Street.
He admits swearing but denies calling officers 'f****** plebs'.
member of the diplomatic protection group has been arrested on suspicion
of misconduct in public office after reportedly sending an email to his
local MP, Tory deputy chief whip John Randall, posing as a member of
the public and accusing Mr Mitchell of calling police plebs’.
The contents of the email was very
similar to the police log, including claims that a crowd of tourists
which appears to be contradicted by CCTV footage of the incident
Senior Downing Street figures, including Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, reviewed CCTV footage of the incident in September and found it contradicted some of the claims against Mr Mitchell.
But the doubts were not forcefully made public, and Mr Mitchell was forced to quit after losing the confidence of the Tory MPs he was in charge of.
'The prime minister clearly decided not to raise concerns with [the Metropolitan police commissioner] Bernard Hogan-Howe,' a friend of Mr Mitchell told the Guardian. 'It is bloody astonishing. The approach was to leave this swinging in the wind rather than raise questions with the police.'
It also emerged today that Mr Mitchell has challenged the independence of the head of Scotland Yard.
Mr Mitchell has let it be
known he has ‘no confidence’ in Met Police Commissioner Bernard
Hogan-Howe, who is still backing the disputed police log of the
But today both London Mayor Boris Johnson and Downing Street insisted they had full confidence in Mr Hogan Howe.
The Mayor of London's spokesman said: 'The Mayor has absolute confidence in the Commissioner. He has assured the Mayor that he is determined to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible. The Mayor has every confidence in that assurance.'
And a Downing Street spokesman said: 'The Prime Minister has full confidence in the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and believes the police should be allowed to carry out the investigation, which is being overseen by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.'
Mr Cameron said he held a meeting with the former minister in Downing Street on Monday, ahead of the revelations in the Channel 4 documentary the following night, which shed heavy doubts on the allegations made by the police.
Mr Cameron, speaking as he left Afghanistan on his Christmas visit to the troops said of the feelings towards him among MPs: ‘I think there’s a lot of sympathy for Andrew.
‘Because the revelation about the email on its own has shocked a lot of people, and some people will have been influenced by that. It’s quite a shocking development.’
During the meeting Mr Mitchell was ‘very calm and rational but feels obviously disturbed by what seems to have happened’, Mr Cameron said.
‘He and is very keen to get to the bottom of it. His mood was calm and reasonable given what are pretty extraordinary revelations.'.
David Cameron, on a visit to Camp Bastion Afghanistan, held out the possibility of Mr Mitchell returning to government
London mayor Boris Johnson warned 'this has got to be sorted out' because the public had to have confidence in the police.
'It's not just serious because it affected the career of a Tory Cabinet minister, or whatever – it's serious because everybody in London has a right to expect the police to be fair and scrupulous in their testimony about what may or may not have happened, he told LBC Radio.
The Police Federation, which
represents rank and file officers, also admitted mistakes in stoking the
row which saw officers posing for cameras wearing 'PC Pleb and proud'
It comes at the end of a week of
extraordinary twists in the saga of what was and was not said during the
brief row on September 19.
Yesterday it emerged that a second man, aged 23, had been arrested and held overnight on suspicion of 'intentionally encouraging or assisting the commission of an indictable offence'.
Around 30 officers are working on the inquiry, which is being supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
Met Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, pictured today, is under pressure over his handling of the investigation, with London Mayor Boris Johnson warning everyone expects the police to be 'fair and scrupulous'
The Prime Minister said he stood by Mr Mitchell because of doubts about the evidence against him.
‘We knew this email was unreliable so it did not influence my judgment as to whether Andrew Mitchell should stay in government,’ he added.
Mr Cameron said that when Mr Randall confronted the individual who allegedly wrote the email, he “flatly denied” being a police officer.
The PM also gave his strongest hint yet that Mr Mitchell could return to government.
Speaking on a pre-Christmas visit to troops in Afghanistan, he was asked in interviews if Mr Mitchell could make a comeback.
‘One step at a time. Let's get to the truth about what happened,' he said.
‘But I think it has been an extraordinary development, frankly, to find a police officer apparently posing as a member of the public, pretending to have been outside Downing Street at the time and then trying to blacken the name of a Cabinet minister.’
The dispute centres on discrepancies between the police accounts of the incident and the CCTV footage.
Both the official police log and the fabricated email claimed there were tourists standing at the gates who were shocked by Mr Mitchell's language, but security cameras covering the Downing Street entrance show almost no one there at the time.
The police log, leaked to the Daily Telegraph, said: 'There were several members of public present as is the norm opposite the pedestrian gate and as we neared it, Mr MITCHELL said: “Best you learn your f****** place…you don’t run this f****** government…You’re f******* plebs.”
'The members of public looked visibly shocked and I was somewhat taken aback by the language used and the view expressed by a senior government official.'
CCTV from Downing Street, as shown on Channel 4 News, suggests there was not a group of tourists at the gates at the time of the incident
The badly-spelled email sent to Mr Randall by a police officer posing as a member of the public claimed: 'We were waiting at the main gates of Downing Street, with several other tourists.'
It added: 'Imagine to our horror when we heard Mr Mitchell shout very loudly at the police officers guarding “YOU _______ PLEBES!!” and “YOU THINK YOU RUN THE __________ COUNTRY” and just continued to shout obscenities at the poor police officers. My nephew, as was I, totally taken aback bu his, MR MITCHELLS' behaviour and the gutter language he used, especially it appeared directed at the police officers.
'Now I know that the other people/tourists standing with us were also shocked and some were even inadvertently filming the incident (it wouldn't surprise me that in this age it'll be on YouTube or other social media website).'
As doubts grow about the evidence against Mr Mitchell, the Police Federation started rowing back from his fierce criticism of the senior Conservative.
Chairman Paul McKeeversaid: 'I understand those who say the Federation stoked up some of the media attention in relation to Andrew Mitchell. I think we can all say we could have done things better.
'The federation has to look at how we
can get some measure of control to ensure that there is perhaps a better
way of doing business in the future. That's something we are going to have to review in the new year.'
But he insisted he was personally 'taken aback and shocked' by Mr Mitchell's reported comments, which came immediately after the murder of two woman police officers in Manchester.
He told BBC Radio 4: 'I am going to wait to see what happens in relation to the investigation.
'If he has been done a calumny in relation to what happened, I will be one of the first in the queue to apologise.'