Although we don’t know with absolute certainty what Andrew Mitchell did or did not say as he approached the Downing Street gates late one evening in September, it is surely far more likely that he did say what is attributed to him rather than that the police fabricated his words (are they really that machiavellian to have thought up the public school insult ‘plebs’ if he didn’t actually say it?).
But it’s what followed that’s so toxic. We now know that a police officer, pretending to be a member of the public present at the scene when he was not, sought to corroborate the police log to ensure Mitchell paid the price for his offensive behaviour. It has been subsequently said by many, including the PM, that it’s a very serious offence to try to frame a Cabinet Minister. I would go further: it’s an extremely serious offence for a police officer to try to frame anybody.
What makes this far more disturbing is that the Mitchell saga comes on the back of (1) the huge phone-hacking scandal, (2) the Hillsborough stitch-up, (3) the framing of the Birmingham 6 and other victims of the Irish ‘troubles’ , (4) the attempted entrapment of environmental protesters through illicit liaisons, (5) the explaining away of numerous highly dubious deaths in police custody, (6) the resignation or forced retirement of over 200 police officers each year to escape misconduct charges, (7) the leaking of ‘juicy’ confidential material to the press to get pay-offs reckoned over the years to have amounted to £130,000, and (8) the arrest last month of 5 Kent detectives on charges that crime figures had been manipulated.
Against that background the question is not: was Mitchell framed (probably not, though an officer’s subsequent conduct shows the police in a very bad light), but rather how many other persons have been framed by the police over the years?
That’s not the end of the Mitchell saga either. Why on earht was Mitchell refused the right to bee the CCTV recording of the incident until he had resigned? Why was the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, apparently less than rigorous about probing the evidence in order to advise the PM.
This suggests that other extraneous influences, whether political or diplomatic, may have had their part in the way the incident played out. But that is less important than the central issue of trust and confidence in the police. That has taken a multiple battering, and cleaning out this ‘cancer’ of corruption in the police now demands much more radical action than has so far been contemplated.