UK Politics

Andrew Mitchell row 'hijacked'

Andrew Mitchell
Image caption PM David Cameron and senior officers say a line should be drawn under the matter

The row over Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell's outburst at police officers in Downing Street has been "hijacked", Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond says.

Mr Mitchell met Police Federation representatives on Friday to discuss a claim - which he denies - that he called officers "plebs" last month.

The local federation's chairman said the minister's position was untenable.

But Mr Hammond told Radio 4's Any Questions the federation was using the situation "for their own purposes".

He said the federation - which has been at odds with the government over police cuts in England and Wales and changes to members' pay and conditions - was using the row as an excuse to bring up other grievances.

"We've now got other people who were not involved in the incident who seem to be trying to hijack this issue now and take it forward for their own purposes," he said.

"The man's apologised, the person he insulted has accepted the apology, let's draw a line."

He added: "The House of Commons will be back on Monday - Andrew Mitchell will be performing his duties as chief whip.

"I don't really buy the argument that he can't do the job. I think he can do the job."

'Repeated denial'

Mr Mitchell, who is reported to have sworn at an officer, has apologised for disrespectful remarks made three weeks ago after he was asked to get off his bicycle and use a small pedestrian gate rather than the main Downing Street gate.

But he has maintained he "did not use the words attributed to me".

West Mercia Police Federation chairman Ken Mackaill - one of three representatives who met the Tory MP for 45 minutes in his Sutton Coldfield constituency office - said Mr Mitchell had "no option but to resign" after refusing to give details of exactly what he said in his outburst.

Mr Mackaill added: "Whilst he has repeated his - to use his words - profound apology for what he did say... he has also repeated his denial of using many of the words reported in the officer's notes recorded at the time."

Mr Mackaill said the issue was "about the honesty and accuracy of police records and there are implications for officers giving evidence in court, after all".

"We take the view that this is a Cabinet minister challenging the accuracy of police records and that, we think, is of interest to all police officers."

Prime Minister David Cameron and senior officers have said a line should be drawn under the matter following Mr Mitchell's previous apology, but pressure on Mr Mitchell continues.

His future was the source of speculation during this week's Tory conference - which he chose not to attend - with ministers repeatedly asked about the incident.

Labour, which had previously called for Mr Mitchell to provide further clarity on what he said to police officers, has also called on Mr Cameron to sack his chief whip.

'Drag on and on'

On Saturday, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "The failure by David Cameron and Andrew Mitchell to take this incident seriously enough and to sort it out straight away means Andrew Mitchell will clearly not be able to instil respect in Parliament or beyond as chief whip, and this will just drag on and on."

Labour's candidates to become Police and Crime Commissioners in elections next month are writing to their Conservative opponents demanding to know if they support Mr Mitchell continuing as the government's chief whip.

The BBC's political correspondent Chris Mason said: "A Labour source confirmed the letters will also ask Tory challengers for the roles to publicly spell out what they would see as an appropriate sanction for swearing at a police officer."

Our correspondent said this latest move was being seen as part of Labour's ongoing attempts to keep Mr Mitchell in the headlines.

Last month police officers protested outside Mr Mitchell's constituency office wearing T-shirt with the words "PC Pleb and Proud" printed on them.

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