By Tim Montgomerie
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Andrew Mitchell never saw the CCTV footage
of the incident at the Downing Street gates until after he had resigned as the
Government’s Chief Whip. He told me this when I had lunch with him yesterday.
He also told me that the whole truth of what had happened to him might never
have come to light if it hadn’t been for the perseverant friendship of David
Davis. I couldn’t have had a better friend, he said.
During the height of the drama that came to
be known as ‘Plebgate’ the Downing Street team told Mr Mitchell that the CCTV
images were not helpful in establishing the truth. The images were of too poor
quality to be useful, he was told, and it was impossible to lip-read anything
that either he or the police officers had said.
We now know that the CCTV tells us that the
police log at the heart of the case against Andrew Mitchell was materially
inaccurate. The log published by The Daily Telegraph claimed that several
members of the public were stood at the Downing Street gate during the whole of
the incident and were “visibly shocked”. The CCTV clearly demonstrates that only
one person was present and that person passed by quickly. The CCTV footage also
suggests that not enough time elapsed for all that the police officers claimed
to have been said to have actually been said. The average person speaks at two
to three words per second. Mr Mitchell and the police officers would have had
to be speaking at three or four times normal speed for the police record to
have been accurate. A half-decent barrister would easily destroy believability
in this log if it was cross-examined in court.
We also know that a police officer – part
of the same Diplomatic Protection Squad as the Downing Street police officers –
lied in an email to John Randall MP, claiming to be a member of the public and
claiming to verify those police officers’ version of the event. The email
contained material that was not then in the public domain and suggests some
collusion, even a conspiracy. This email had been crucial to the undermining of
Number 10’s confidence in Mr Mitchell.
The rehabilitation of the ex-Chief Whip may
not be complete yet but it began when he and David Davis met shortly after Mr
Mitchell had resigned. All sorts of thoughts were running through Mitchell’s
head. He considered leaving parliament immediately. He felt he couldn’t walk
down the street without every person looking at him and thinking there was the
lying Tory toff who abused the police. He lost more than a stone in weight
during the period. He felt his career was over and his place in history would
be a toxic one.
Davis urged him to fight. Remember, he
said, what Denis had said to Margaret Thatcher when she was wondering whether
to stand for the Tory leadership in the 1970s. Don’t go through the rest of
your life wondering what would have happened if you never stood against Ted
Heath. Davis knew that Mitchell was completely demoralised and felt that he had
no chance of clearing his name in a world that was against him. Davis urged
Mitchell to make one final attempt to fight for his reputation and his future.
Mitchell agreed. Davis accompanied Mitchell and his wife, Sharron, to inspect
the CCTV footage and then began a long period of negotiations with Channel 4
and investigative reporter Michael Crick. Patiently at a large number of
meetings over a number of weeks they subjected the police’s version of multiple
events to scrutiny and the police’s version of events started to look less and
David Davis secured three ministerial
scalps when he was in opposition. Patient, forensic examination of all
available evidence helped lead to the resignations of David Blunkett, Beverley
Hughes and Charles Clarke. He’s now in the new business of restoring a minister
to office. It looks like he may succeed and in the process the Tory Party’s
view of the police reaches an all-time low.