A 23-YEAR-OLD man has been arrested over the so-called Plebgate affair – the alleged altercation between Downing Street police and Tory MP Andrew Mitchell which led to his resignation as chief whip.
It is understood he is neither a policeman nor a member of police staff and was questioned on suspicion of intentionally encouraging or assisting the commission of an indictable offence on 14 December, police said.
He was questioned at a London police station and released on bail yesterday morning to return in January.
It remains unclear exactly what the arrest relates to, but the date of the alleged offence was one day after police received fresh information on Plebgate and a day before a police officer was arrested on suspicion of misconduct in public office.
Yesterday, police widened the investigation amid signs of strain between senior Conservatives and the police over the treatment of Mr Mitchell, as claims were made that officers conspired to fabricate evidence against the former chief whip, which ultimately led to him stepping down in late October.
Around 30 officers are working on the inquiry, which is being supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Prime Minister David Cameron expressed concern that an officer had tried to “blacken the name” of Mr Mitchell, amid mounting questions over the initial account of his row with Downing Street police who refused to let him ride his bicycle through the main gates.
The officer is said to have e-mailed his local MP, Tory John Randall, posing as a member of the public and accusing Mr Mitchell of calling police plebs.
The account in the e-mail, written the day before tabloid the Sun broke news of the row on 21 September, was very similar to that in the police log, which was later leaked to the Daily Telegraph.
Scotland Yard yesterday said its investigation could look at the possibility of a conspiracy.
“The allegation that a serving police officer fabricated evidence is extremely serious,” it said. “It goes to the very heart of the public’s trust in the police service.”
London’s Tory mayor, Boris Johnson, yesterday described the allegation that a police officer had wrongly claimed to be an eyewitness as “very serious indeed”.
Speaking on LBC radio, he said: “Clearly, there’s a serious question to answer by the member of the diplomatic protection squad, the officer concerned, who is alleged to have sent a fallacious e-mail. That’s got to be sorted out.”
Attention also turned to the Police Federation as former home secretary Lord Baker said the body was in “real trouble” over the affair.
In the e-mail to Mr Randall – passed to Number 10 on 25 September and details of which were broadcast by Channel 4 News on Tuesday – the writer says he was walking past Downing Street with his nephew when he recognised Mr Mitchell. In the error-littered message, he said: “Imagine to our horror when we heard MR MITCHELL shout very loudly at the police officers guarding YOU (expletive blacked out) PLEBES!!” and “YOU THINK YOU RUN THE (expletive blacked out) COUNTRY” and just continued to shout obscenities at the poor officers.”
The e-mail sparked the series of events that led to Mr Mitchell’s resignation. Mr Randall, his deputy in the government whips’ office, is believed to have suggested he would quit unless his boss left his post.
Further questions about the account of Mr Mitchell’s row with police emerged in relation to CCTV footage of the incident. Mr Mitchell has demanded a full investigation into the police account, insisting the e-mail was key to the loss of his job.
Downing Street said it had received two e-mails via Mr Randall but after comparing their claims with CCTV, an internal review led by Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood decided they were not “reliable”. Sir Jeremy did not look at the Downing Street police log, a spokesman said, adding that the PM’s view was that reasonable inquiries were made.