UK Politics

Andrew Mitchell row: Ken Clarke defends Tory Chief Whip

Andrew Mitchell
Image caption Mr Mitchell denies using specific words reported by the Sun

Ken Clarke has defended Andrew Mitchell as a "perfectly reasonable man" as the row over his comments made to a police officer continues.

Mr Clarke - a cabinet minister - said the Tory Chief Whip was a man who had "obviously had a flare of bad temper".

Mr Mitchell is said to have sworn at an officer outside Downing Street.

Labour has urged for greater clarity after Mr Mitchell denied he called the officer a pleb, but did not comment on what he actually did say.

The officer concerned has insisted reports of what happened are accurate.

Mr Clarke, a minister without portfolio in the cabinet, said: "I have known Andrew for a long time and he is a perfectly reasonable, courteous man with the same high regard for the police services as anyone else.

"He obviously had a flare of bad temper on this occasion and has rightly apologised. I do think this should be allowed to set the matter at rest."

Shadow Policing Minister has called for greater clarity and said "the truth needs to be got at".

David Hanson told the BBC News Channel: "It's important the prime minister goes back to Mr Mitchell to say 'what is your account of events?'

"It's important the prime minister has full confidence in his Chief Whip so I think they need to go back to check."

'Inbuilt dislike'

Metropolitan Police Federation chairman John Tully said the minister's outburst was "disgraceful" and he must resign.

During an interview on the BBC's Newsnight, Mr Tully said the incident "just emphasises what we have felt for some time, that there is an inbuilt dislike of the police service in general from the government".

The encounter occurred on Wednesday after Mr Mitchell, MP for Sutton Coldfield, was told by officers to get off his bicycle as he left Downing Street and use the smaller pedestrian gate instead of the main entrance used by cars.

He is alleged by the Sun to have used foul language and told the officer at the gates to "learn your place" and told him: "You don't run this government".

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw says the officer has backed up the Sun's account of the event and the language - including the word "pleb" - that Mr Mitchell was reported to have used.

'Lack of respect'

Downing Street said Mr Mitchell had "apologised profusely" to the officer on the telephone and sources also stressed Mr Cameron had made clear to Mr Mitchell how displeased he was at the confrontation with a police officer.

The source added that the PM still had faith in Mr Mitchell as Chief Whip and that the minister disputes The Sun's version of events.

The prime minister also praised the police, saying they do an "outstanding job".

But Police Federation national chairman Paul McKeever said: "Mr Mitchell's half-hearted apology for the comments made whilst leaving Downing Street will do little to build bridges with the police, who feel they have once again been treated with a lack of respect and civility by members of this government."

The Liberal Democrat president, Tim Farron, described Mr Mitchell's alleged outburst as "utterly, indeed beyond, unacceptable."

"If he said what it's reported he said, it is absolutely appalling," said Mr Farron. "All of us can have grouchy moments and say things we regret, but what is reported he said reveals something not terribly pleasant."

'Hollow words'

Meanwhile, Mr Tully also attacked the prime minister's tribute to the two police officers killed in Manchester.

PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone were killed on Tuesday. Dale Cregan, 29, has appeared at Manchester Magistrates' Court, charged with their murders.

Mr Tully said Mr Cameron's tribute were "hollow words" and that was "the feedback I'm getting from my membership".

He added the government had mounted "a vitriolic attack on police pay and conditions and pensions".

A Downing Street source said the PM had made it clear "that he has the greatest respect for the police."

Number 10 has not yet commented on Mr Tully's words.

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