Andrew Mitchell could have ended Plebgate controversy ages ago, but didn’t

1:36 pm - October 17th 2013

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by Giselle Green

An apparently trivial incident at the gates of Downing Street over a year ago, which claimed the career of a Cabinet minister, would not still be front page news or discussed at PMQs had it not been for two important factors: the timing and the instant response of Andrew Mitchell.

The day before The Curious Incident of the Gate in the Night-Time, the news agenda was dominated by the brutal murder of two unarmed female police officers in Manchester. This was described at the time by the BBC’s home affairs correspondent as “arguably the blackest day in the history of the police service of England and Wales since three police officers were shot dead in west London in 1966”. 

This dreadful and emotionally-charged story also crucially came just a week after another equally huge police story: that South Yorkshire police had lied and operated a cover-up of unimaginably distasteful proportions during and after the Hillsborough disaster. 

Had plebgate happened a week earlier, with the Hillsborough disgrace uppermost in people’s minds, I have no doubt that the police version of events, with its “fucking plebs” remark, would not have been so quickly and gleefully jumped on by politicians and the media as the truth.

And without the fuel of the class-war loaded remark, the incident would not have turned into an explosive story. The fact that it is called plebgate says it all.

But it wasn’t just the timing of plebgate that was crucial. Before anyone starts feeling too sorry for Andrew Mitchell, the finger of blame is also pointing at his own immediate response to the accusation.

It is now clear that his words were, at best, misheard, or at worst, twisted. Why then did Mr Mitchell play silly semantic games with the press, repeatedly stating “I did not use the words that have been attributed to me” rather than explicitly stating what he did say? He could so easily have snuffed out the story – or at least speedily discredited the police version – by coming clean with: “What I actually said was: ‘I thought you guys were supposed to fucking help us’ and I sincerely apologise for swearing”. 

But it wasn’t until December that Mr Mitchell publicly gave his own account of exactly what was said at the gates of Downing Street.

Without that immediate, and highly plausible, rebuttal, plebgate snowballed into a full scale scandal spawning a resignation, the revelation of a fake eyewitness account, arrests, inquiries, a Channel 4 documentary, a Scotland Yard investigation and demonstrations at the Tory Party conference, and involved the DPP, the CPS, the IPCC, the Diplomatic Protection Group, ACPO and the Police Federation, as well as drawing in all the party leaders, the home secretary and countless MPs. Has anyone worked out the cost of all this? And it’s not over yet.

Had Mr Mitchell not been so enigmatic at the time, it would not still be dominating the news agenda.

But neither would we have uncovered the very disturbing and grave flaws of individual police officers and members of the Police Federation that were triggered by the initial incident, which now raise important questions about the integrity of our police force. And for that, we have to be grateful to Mr Mitchell and to the timing of the tragic slaughter of two police officers in Manchester.

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Reader comments

The answer to this has been well-documented. He was desperate to avoid publicly accusing a police officer (or The Sun’s anonymous source, who everyone assumes was a police officer) of lying. Supposedly, Downing Street press officers were advising him. They advised him badly.

2. Richard Carey

‘Why then did Mr Mitchell play silly semantic games with the press, repeatedly stating “I did not use the words that have been attributed to me” rather than explicitly stating what he did say?’

How is that “silly semantic games”? He denied he called them “fucking plebs”, and it was the word plebs over which the controversy raged. If he were asked whether he swore at them, then a yes or no answer would have been misleading, because there is a distinction that can be drawn between saying “fuck off” or “fuck you”, which is certainly swearing *at* someone, and what he said, which is using a curse word. You are probably right that he could have been clearer in what he actually said, but I don’t think he can be blamed for not doing so, especially if you consider that we don’t always remember exactly what we said in an incident.

I do not have a strong opinion about whether Andrew Mitchell could have minimised controversy. But I am glad that he acted how he did. In the list of sinners, I’d highlight the roles of ACPO and Sir Hugh Orde. The confused role of ACPO — is it a private club or an arm of police management? — demands clarification.

From the Independent:

“Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said the behaviour of the Police Federation officers had fallen below the standards expected, but their chief constables should be given the opportunity to explain their decision not to take further disciplinary action.”

To me, those words appear to come from a mutual support club or a staff association representative. And thus ACPO and government should drop the pretence that ACPO is an independent authority on UK policing practice.

We know Mitchell told the PM, no doubt the Police enquiry, the Fed Reps and stated in his resignation letter what he said

Dont forget there was a Met police enquiry into the Downing Street incident and supposed study of 9 cameras which would have shown the account given in the telegraph was not borne out.

Mitchell had no reason to think anyone would reach a differant conclusion to that which was obvious in December.

The last Labour plebs farago had blown over in 24 hours in april 2011 there was no reason to think this wouldnt

5. Richard Carey

It’s pretty obvious why he didn’t,and trying to make out that it was all part of a grand conspiracy to keep a story running that was just as damaging to him is pretty silly.

My conclusion is that he did not want to overtly slander the reputation of the police and that he had assumed (wrongly, as it turned out) that by avoiding such a direct accusation of the police lying he in turn would be afforded an exit from the situation and allowed to get on with his job as before.

What then seems to have happened is that the Police decided to make hay out of it, blew the story up out of all proportion, not helped by the over excited press who gleefully stuck it on all the front pages, and then quite rightly Mitchell is now saying ‘I tried to deal with this and move on, you blew it up and now have egg on your faces’.

or at least speedily discredited the police version

But that’s exactly what he told the three Police Federation reps in their meeting that he didn’t want to do. Read the transcript of their meeting.

But it wasn’t until December that Mr Mitchell publicly gave his own account of exactly what was said at the gates of Downing Street.

Presumably because damage had been done after CCTV footage was released that cast doubt on the police version of events.

It’s easy to imagine that the tories would feel ambivalent about the Mitchell incident, on the one hand the Hillsborough disaster and the miner’s strike relied upon the ‘evidence’ of the boys in blue to smear those involved, but on the other hand, the obvious lies told about Mitchell would mark them out for what they were.

At a guess, Mitchell was the sacrificial lamb.

I hope Ed “Toast” Miliband apologises (if only privately) to Andrew Mitchell for his opportunistic and semi-hysterical attack on Mitchell in the Commons.

Your talk about ‘silly semantic games’ is laughable.

The fact is that policemen have tried to stitch up a member of an elected government.

This behaviour is nigh-on treasonous, and I hope as must every democrat that they are held accountable to the very end of the law.

what! the police tell lies, that will come as a complete revelation where i live.

This was always win-win as far as I was concerned.

Whether Mitchell called them plebs or not, he still shouted and swore at them for doing their jobs.

Of course, if he gets his government job back and a few coppers lose theirs, but everything then carries on as normal, it will be lose-lose.


You obviously do not understand how the media and, especially, new media works.

You ask : Why then did Mr Mitchell play silly semantic games with the press…?”

Quite simply this…if Mitchell ever repeated the word “plebs” or the word “fucking” on camera in his rebuttal, then those words would have been spliced and diced into a YouTube viral (supported by his opponents) and designed to inflict maximum damage.

We can be sure that his opponents would have done this since Labour *actually* issued the following opportunistic flyer.

Clegg’s “Sorry” video is another brilliant example of how toxic new media can be when you repeat an allegation.

You say “media” in your bio. How can this be possible without understanding such basics of media management?

14. Raylan Givens

Julian: is it treason for the police to lie, or just to lie about tories?


And that Michael Gove apologises for briefing lobby hacks against the guy?

Raylan Givens @ 14:

Julian [@10]: is it treason for the police to lie, or just to lie about tories?

Your comment epitomises the LEFTIST SNEER, which aims to discredit but not engage with the point made.

When the police lie, they do not betray their country; so it could never be treason. If some police can lie about a government minister, then some police could lie about anyone in government – including Labour ministers.

Raylan mate, if you can’t tell the difference between ‘a tory’ and an elected member of parliament, then you are an idiot.

The person who could have cleared Mitchell’s name was Cameron. Cameron could have made a public statement, after seeing the CCTV footage, that cast doubt on what the police had said (and had been repeated in certain newspapers). Cameron chose not to do so. Why? Probably because Cameron did not want to have a public row with the police, certain sections of the media, and some of his own party who were briefing against Mitchell.

A lot of this comes down to Cameron’s weakness in the face of forces that are trying to push his party in their direction.


I couldn’t give a damn if Andrew Mitchell is a Tory, a Green, a Labour or Monster Raving Loony. He was a government minister and because of the rumpus caused by opportunistic policemen who, whilst amid a pay dispute with the government, got him sacked.

If that doesn’t worry you – you should have a long look at countries where ministers are appointed / fired despite the will of the electorate instead of because of their will.

Your article almost says Andrew Mitchell lost his job because of his own actions rather than others – he was asking for it. Not surprisingly that defence doesn’t carry much weight so why suggest it here?

Mitchell was smart, timing is everything in a situation like this.

What everyone should be focussing on is what he meant by ‘I thought you guys were supposed to ******* help us’.

Are the Police, and the Federation inherently on the side of the Tories? They clearly were in the 80’s.

21. Tom Rawlinson

I’m 61 and never realised that the police would deliberately lie and stitch people up so I find it extremely disturbing to discover what’s been going on. How many of these cases of outright falsification have there been now, Jean Charles de Mendez, Hillsborough, another kid shot dead and accused of having a gun?

But nobody seems to have commented on something else – if Andrew Mitchell had been driving a car, the police would have opened the gate for him.

Because he was cycling, they refused to do so – and would not even allow him to cycle through the pedestrian gate (I hope I have that right).

In other words, the police were far over-stepping their duties, in order to save themselves effort and discriminate against cyclists.

I never thought much of this “elected Police Commissioner” – but I can see how it will/should produce much better results in this case than what we could have expected before. Heads need to roll, quite a number of them.

Hi Tom Rawlinson

Not seen or heard from you since I left CompuServe in 2001. Where are you blogging nowadays? With Liberal Conspiracy pulling down the shutters, I’m looking for new places to drop into.



‘I’m 61 and never realized that the police would deliberately lie’.

So you don’t live in South Yorkshire.

It’s not just the Police who have lost credibility – remember also the killing of Ian Tomlinson, the newspaper vendor who happened to be walking past a street demo when he was struck down or how Yates of the Yard closed down the phone hacking investigation of the Murdoch press “because there is no new evidence”?

Politicians have also lost credibility. Just compare what Osborne is claiming now about Britain’s economy with the assessments in the Financial Times by Martin Wolf and Chris Giles when they look at the actual numbers:

Signs of recovery abound but with little consensus on future course

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