Prime Minister David Cameron may restore Andrew Mitchell, the U.K. minister who resigned over alleged insults to police, to office if new evidence exonerates him, a person familiar with the premier’s thinking said.
Mitchell quit his job as the Tory party’s chief whip on Oct. 19 after weeks of pressure over a verbal attack on police. The opposition Labour Party led calls for him to resign after The Sun newspaper reported Sept. 21 that he called Metropolitan Police officers outside the premier’s Downing Street office in London “plebs” and said they should “learn their place” because they refused to let him cycle through the main gate.
A report by Channel 4 News televised last night said a police officer had posed as a member of the public and falsely claimed to have witnessed the events in an e-mail to his lawmaker. A Diplomatic Protection Squad officer was arrested on Dec. 15 by police investigating how national newspapers were able to publish their records of the incident. Mitchell denied using the word “plebs,” while admitting he lost his temper and swore at officers.
“A police officer posing as a member of the public and sending an e-mail potentially to blacken the name of a Cabinet minister is a very serious issue and does need to be seriously investigated,” Cameron told lawmakers today.
The Channel 4 report casts doubt over the police’s account of the incident. The person familiar with the premier’s thinking said there is more to the story than meets the eye and that if Mitchell is cleared, the path is open for him to return to the government.
Mitchell told Channel 4 he was “really shocked” to learn of the alleged falsification of evidence against him.
“I always knew that the e-mails were false, although extremely convincing,” Mitchell said. “If you’d told me on Sept. 19 that the experience I have had since then, the revelations that have since come to light, could take place in Britain today, I simply would not have believed you. And it’s certainly shaken my lifelong support and confidence in the police.”
Cameron “was urged repeatedly to set up a proper investigation to get to the facts and refused to do so, and it is incredible that three months on we still don’t have clarity about what happened,” Labour’s home affairs spokeswoman, Yvette Cooper, said in an e-mailed statement.
The premier spent weeks answering questions about why he was reluctant to fire Mitchell over the incident as the police piled pressure on the Conservative leader. Cameron left a drinks reception for journalists in Downing Street before the end last night to examine the Channel 4 allegations.
“The prime minister’s view remains that he hopes in time Mr. Mitchell will be able to return to public life,” Cameron’s spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray, told reporters in London today.
“About five days into it, there was a clear presumption in the public’s mind, in the media mind, in a lot of politicians’ mind that there were saints and sinners in this -- that the police were saints and Mr. Mitchell was a sinner,” Conservative lawmaker David Davis told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. Mitchell “should be returned to high office; he was a fantastic international development secretary. He probably will not become chief whip again but I think the injustice should be put right.”
“Pleb” is an abbreviation of the word “plebeian,” an insult directed at one’s perceived inferior. The incident was particularly toxic for Cameron, as a distant descendant of royalty, and for Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, heir to a hereditary title, who have been labeled “posh boys” by lawmakers from both main parties.
The Metropolitan Police Service said in a statement that the allegation “goes to the very heart of the public’s trust in the police service. It said the force “is conducting a thorough and well-resourced investigation to get to the truth of the matter as quickly as possible.”
The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file police officers, said in an e-mail today it is “concerned” about the arrest of a serving police officer.
“However, this remains a separate issue to the original claims made by Metropolitan police officers as to their treatment by a serving MP,” the statement said. “It is disappointing that all information and evidence regarding the original incident was not revealed at the time -- if that had occurred perhaps we would not be in the situation we now find ourselves in as a police service.”
Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg said today that the Police Federation “had an interest in damaging the reputation” of the Tories and there’s “a lot of tension” between them.
“The Police Federation are in difficult negotiations with the government over their pensions,” he told BBC Radio 5. “I don’t think it’s difficult to see the motive but it isn’t yet proved that that is the case.”