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Wednesday, November 27, 2013 

Echoes of past humiliations.

It was hard not to detect something faintly tragic about the press conference staged yesterday by Andrew Mitchell, David Davis and Mitchell's lawyer, in front of the clearly slavering representatives of the media.  It reminded of all those other politicians down the years who have made similar statements, often with their family by their side, many of whom were subsequently discovered to have been lying, or to have indeed been shacking up with someone other than their wife.  Those who can actually remember Jonathan Aitken standing up and saying it fell to him to "cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play", rather than in my case just having seen video clips of it may well have experienced deja vu.

This isn't to suggest the cases of Aitken and Mitchell are in any other way comparable, as they clearly aren't.  Aitken was corrupt to the core (and has since made amends for being so); Mitchell is at worst a liar, who like all of us, is flawed.  Their approach to what they say have been slurs is however eerily similar, with the presentation given yesterday echoing more of conspiracy movies than dour political thrillers.  What it all boils down to in the end, as it has from the outset, is the disagreement over who said what to whom.  Mitchell maintains the officer he admits he swore at, if indirectly, made up the rest of his account and inserted the toxic word "plebs"; PC Toby Rowland (for it is he) hasn't changed his story since filing the email log an hour and a half after the incident, and continues to stand by it.

The Crown Prosecution Service, for its part, hasn't really taken sides.  In new director of public prosecutions' Alison Saunders first major test, she decided there was insufficient evidence for Rowland to be charged with misconduct in public office (aka lying), while there was also insufficient evidence of a conspiracy against Mitchell.  This frankly backs up what anyone with a certain amount of distance from the case will have concluded from the public evidence available: that it's impossible to know what was said between Mitchell and Rowland, and for there to have been a conspiracy it would have needed to be put together extraordinarily quickly.  This isn't to say that Mitchell is lying, or that there wasn't a conspiracy, merely that the CPS felt there wasn't enough evidence for a realistic chance of a conviction.  Separate is how the email log was swiftly leaked to the Sun, which the CPS decided was in the public interest, and how PC Keith Wallis, otherwise unconnected to the incident, emailed the Tory deputy chief whip with his fabricated account of what happened.  One thing that remains unclear is just how quickly the Police Federation got involved, leading to the campaign via the Gaunt Brothers, the factor that really did for Mitchell.

There are nonetheless a couple of reasons to question the police investigation and so the case from which the CPS had to make their decision.  It's curious to say the least that Rowland was at no stage arrested, or it seems questioned on his account - they seem to have taken it at face value, one presumes down to how Rowland accepted Mitchell's apology at the time and until yesterday had stayed out of the spotlight, not wanting to take it further.  There's also the fact the IPCC, like with the investigation into the Federation three, could have conducted the inquiry themselves yet didn't due to lack of resources, instead only supervising.

Much of the rest of Mitchell's complaints (presented by Davis) are though fairly flimsy.  He claimed there wasn't enough time for him to have said exactly what Rowland maintains he did, which is pretty laughable when everyone talks at different speeds and MPs especially tend to have the gift of the gab.  His long-standing gripe that there weren't "several" people outside the Downing Street gates as Rowland wrote, when there were at least three passing by even if they didn't "look shocked", an unsurprising piece of exaggeration, was also further undermined by the CPS. 

It remains difficult to understand what Mitchell hopes to gain from his continuing campaign for exoneration.  His argument that if this happened to him it could happen to anyone has now been tested by a new broom, and found wanting.  If he had no previous dealings with Rowland, as he says, why would the officer have made up such an account, and within an hour and a half of it happening, unless he was so spooked by "not hearing the last of it"?  Why would he have accepted Mitchell's apology and felt the matter was closed if this was a grand conspiracy?  And is going through with the libel case really worth it when the involvement of the PF has already cast a shadow over the police's ability to investigate themselves, and Rowland says he will testify on oath that his account is correct?  Mitchell's not going to get his job back, and most now believe him rather than police, regardless of yesterday's decision.  The way instead seems open to further humiliation rather than redemption, and the last thing politics needs right now is another example of an ex-minister defending themselves up until the very last second.

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