LONDON (Reuters) - A British government minister who resigned after a foul-mouthed altercation with armed police outside Prime Minister David Cameron’s office was not the victim of a criminal conspiracy to smear him, prosecutors said on Tuesday.
Andrew Mitchell stood down in 2012 amid disputed reports that he had called police officers who had refused to open a gate for him “plebs”, a derogatory term for working class people that is laden with prejudice.
In Britain, a country acutely attuned to social class, the incident played into the hands of Cameron’s opponents, who accuse him of leading a Conservative Party that is elitist and out of touch with ordinary voters.
Prosecutors said they had not found enough evidence to show that police involved in the September 2012 incident had lied or worked together to fabricate false allegations. Mitchell rejected those findings and said he been “stitched up”.
“There is insufficient evidence to show that Mr Mitchell was the victim of a conspiracy of misinformation,” said Alison Saunders, director of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Prosecutors said one police officer, Keith Wallis, who was not present during the row, had been charged with “misconduct in a public office” and will appear in court on suspicion of falsely claiming to have witnessed the incident.
Separately, the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said five officers, including Wallis, would face gross misconduct charges.
The fallout from the incident has been embarrassing for Cameron, trailing in the polls before an election in 2015.
Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband taunted Cameron over the episode in parliament last year and said Mitchell should have been arrested like any other “yob” (hooligan).
The Conservatives are fighting Labour claims that they are run by an aloof, privileged and moneyed group insulated from the effects of their austerity policies and squeezed incomes.
‘KNOW YOUR PLACE’
Prosecutors said it was still not clear who said what to whom during the altercation that followed the police refusal to let Mitchell pass through the main security gates with his bicycle in Downing Street, the London road that houses the offices of the prime minister and Chancellor.
Police said Mitchell, 57, a former army officer and Lazards banker, swore at them, saying “you should know your place, you don’t run this government, you’re plebs”.
Questioning the prosecutors’ central findings on Tuesday, Mitchell used a news conference to accuse the police of lying to try to “toxify” the Conservatives and punish them for budget cuts and reforms that upset many officers.
He admitted swearing at the police, but denied using the word “pleb” or saying they should know their place and did not run the country.
“These appear in the police log and were used to destroy my political career and pursue a campaign of opposition to government plans and policy,” Mitchell said. “These three phrases were used to toxify the Conservative Party.”
London police chief Bernard Hogan-Howe said it had conducted a “ruthless search for the truth”.
“Public trust and confidence in the integrity of the police is fundamental to us providing an effective service,” he said. “I expect my officers to serve the public without fear or favour.”
Editing by Andrew Osborn and Mark Heinrich