UK

Avoid 'plebgate' witch hunt against police, Tory urges

Andrew Mitchell
Image caption The former chief whip has admitted swearing but denies using the word 'pleb' towards police

Tory party vice-chairman Michael Fabricant says police should not face a "witch hunt" after the "plebgate" row.

He tweeted that neither the police nor ex-chief whip Andrew Mitchell emerged from the incident "smelling of roses".

The row broke out after Mr Mitchell was accused of calling police officers "plebs" during an argument at Downing Street - a claim he has always denied.

Mr Mitchell resigned but CCTV coverage appearing to cast doubt on officers' versions of events has since emerged.

'Toxic phrases'

Earlier this month a police officer was arrested on suspicion of misconduct.

Mr Mitchell has since given the Sunday Times his version of the alleged altercation by the main gates of Downing Street on 19 September and said that he was the victim of what he called a ploy to "toxify" the Tories.

He admitted swearing after a police officer refused to let him exit through the main gate with his bicycle, but not directly at the officer, and insists he did not lose his temper or "rail against police".

He added: "These awful toxic phrases which were hung round my neck for weeks and weeks in a sustained attempt to toxify the Conservative Party and destroy my career were completely and totally untrue."

And later on Sunday Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe promised "a ruthless search for the truth".

The former policing minister, Nick Herbert, called for action to tackle what he called the "cancer" of corruption within the police.

'Unforgivable'

But Mr Fabricant, the MP for Lichfield in Staffordshire who is also a former whip, in his tweets cast doubt on both the police and Mr Mitchell's accounts. "I suspect the truth is 6 of one and half a dozen of the other. NO-ONE comes out of it smelling of roses: neither the police nor Andrew," he wrote.

Image caption Last month Michael Fabricant urged Conservatives to consider a pact with UKIP

He said the CCTV footage broadcast last week by Channel 4 News - which cast doubt on the police account - lasted 46 seconds, while the words recalled by Mr Mitchell would take about 20 seconds to speak.

He hinted that Mr Mitchell's personality may have led people to believe the "pleb" remark and added: "The problem Andrew Mitchell has is that if Michael Gove had been accused, it would be hard to believe. He is invariably polite and courteous."

Mr Fabricant, who is also Prime Minister David Cameron's elections adviser, added: "If Andrew Mitchell was stitched up by the police, it is unforgivable. But will we ever know exactly what was said and by whom?

"Witch-hunts are unfair. The witch-hunt against Mitchell was wrong if story was embellished. But the witch-hunt now against the police not good."

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