That’s the heavy implication of Michael Crick’s revelations on Channel 4 News last night.
The bare facts appear to be that, when told the police wouldn’t open the gates at Downing Street to allow him to ride his bike through, then Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell swore at them, saying “I thought you guys were supposed to f****** help us”, a sentence he admits uttering in exasperation. He then cycled off and thought no more of it, until contacted by Downing Street and told The Sun was about to run a front page splash alleging a serious altercation with the police.
Andrew Mitchell has always denied calling the police “f****** plebs”, the toxic phrase which led to his forced resignation. Michael Crick’s report, which includes the first broadcast CCTV footage of the incident, does not prove Andrew Mitchell didn’t say that. But it does cast huge doubt on the Metropolitan police’s claims, including the official police log of the incident — they’ll now have to show they didn’t conspire to pervert the course of natural justice.
Another person who doesn’t emerge with much credit is Sir Jeremy Heywood, who was tasked by the Prime Minister with investigating an email sent to Tory deputy chief whip John Randall, supposedly from an eyewitness, which corroborated the police’s version of events. The eyewitness, who is a serving police officer, now denies he was there at all.
There have been many victims of police cover-ups over the years — the recent Hillsborough revelations are a prime example. It is one reason why liberals are inclined to be sceptical when the police demand wider powers which infringe on our civil liberties.
Relatively speaking, the apparent stitching up of Andrew Mitchell is small beer: a personal tragedy for him, but at least no-one died. Yet it is a glaring example of the potential for even (generally) trusted agents of the state such as the police to — it appears — abuse their power.
As Mr Mitchell says, “It has shaken my lifelong support and confidence in the police.” Some of us have had it shaken without needing to experience it personally. Of course the vast majority of the police do an incredibly difficult job very well; but we don’t need to sign blank cheques to show our support for that role.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.