Plebgate: Probe Looks At Police Conspiracy

Police have widened their probe into the Andrew Mitchell "plebgate" row amid allegations that a police officer tried to "blacken" the politician's name.

Some 30 officers are now working on the investigation and will look at claims the officer posed as a member of the public and falsely claimed to have witnessed the argument.

Scotland Yard confirmed it will also be examining whether there was any sort of "conspiracy" to smear the then Tory Chief Whip as part of a "large scale and complex investigation".

The row was revived after claims the officer wrote an email to his local MP giving details of of Mr Mitchell's behaviour when he was prevented from cycling through the Downing Street gates.

There are also fresh questions after CCTV footage of the altercation on September 19 emerged and appeared to conflict with the official police version of events.

David Cameron said at PMQs: "A police officer posing as a member of the public and sending an email potentially to blacken the name of a Cabinet minister is a very serious issue and does need to be seriously investigated.

"The Metropolitan Police Service is conducting a thorough and well-resourced investigation to get to the truth of this matter as quickly as possible.

"The Independent Police Complaints Commission will be supervising the investigation and I think we should allow them to get to the truth."

Mr Mitchell, who eventually quit in October after a month under intense pressure, has claimed he was the victim of a "stitch-up" and is demanding a full inquiry.

In an earlier statement, Number 10 described allegations that an officer pretending to be a bystander and had fabricated evidence as "exceptionally serious".

Scotland Yard has vowed to establish the truth "as quickly as possible" but warned "the investigation will not be short".

Mr Mitchell was thrust to the centre of a political storm three months ago when a police report about his rant at the Downing Street officer was leaked to the press.

It claimed the senior Tory had warned the policeman: "Best you learn your f****** place. You don't run this f****** government. You're f****** plebs."

The politician has always denied using the word "plebs", although he did admit swearing and getting angry. Instead, he claims he said: "I thought you guys were supposed to f****** help us."

But the "pleb" claim was seized on by the Police Federation and Labour who demanded that he stand down.

The email, now known to be from a fellow police officer, allegedly helped fuel the row and keep up the momentum that eventually cost Mr Mitchell his job.

The policeman wrote to his MP John Randall, apparently not disclosing his job and describing how he had been walking past Downing Street with his nephew when the spat happened.

It suggested Mr Mitchell had sworn repeatedly and called the officers "plebs", as well as claiming passers-by near the gates had been shocked.

The account closely matched the official police log's version of events, which was eventually leaked and published in full by the press.

Mr Cameron summoned his Chief Whip after being told about the email and suggested he had been "caught bang to rights", according to an investigation by Channel 4 News.

When Mr Mitchell flatly denied key parts, the Prime Minister ordered an investigation but this failed to establish who sent the email.

It emerged only when the officer was arrested on suspicion of misconduct in public office last week.

Contacted by Channel 4 News, the individual seemed to admit that he had never been present when the row happened.

Mr Cameron was said to be "furious" when he found out.

Previously unreleased CCTV footage of the clash also showed no evidence of passers-by who could be a man with his nephew.

The video, which has no sound, shows Mr Mitchell talking to three officers by the main gate for around 20 seconds before wheeling his bicycle to the side gate and leaving.

Clips from other cameras suggest there were few members of the public close by at the time - apparently contradicting the police log.

Mr Mitchell said: "‘Three phrases were hung around my neck for 28 days and used to destroy my political career and toxify the Conservative Party.

'They are completely untrue - I never said them. I have never called someone a f****** pleb and never would.

"I always knew that the emails were false, although extremely convincing. It has shaken my lifelong support and confidence in the police.

"I believe now there should be a full inquiry so we can get to the bottom of this."

Met Police Chief Bernard Hogan-Howe, speaking before Channel 4 broadcast its programme, said he did not think the new revelations "affected the original account of officers at the scene".

But Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: "These are very serious allegations that must be investigated with all possible urgency.

"An allegation that a serving police officer posed as a member of the public whilst fabricating evidence is a matter of the utmost gravity."

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, suggested the police watchdog or the HM Inspectorate of Police should investigate the affair instead of Scotland Yard.

"There is clearly a need for a robust, transparent and comprehensive investigation," he said.

John Tully, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation (MPF), said: "The serious allegations aired in the Channel 4 News report are of concern to the MPF.

"However, as this is an ongoing investigation, we are unable to make further comment, other than to say we support a full and thorough investigation to establish the truth."

Former Tory leader Michael Howard said he was "appalled" by the claims and hoped Mr Mitchell would be back in Government "at the earliest opportunity".

The Prime Minister's spokesman said: "The Prime Minister's view remains that he hopes in time Mr Mitchell will be able to return to public life."