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New Evidence Re-Opens Britain's 'Plebe-Gate' Scandal


A year ago, a British Cabinet minister was forced to step down after being publicly excoriated. His crime? He allegedly berated two police officers while wheeling his bicycle away from the prime minister's residence.

Though, Vicki Barker reports, that doubts are now being cast on the officers' version of the story.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: It was dismissed as one more skirmish in a class war: A posh conservative Cabinet minister, Andrew Mitchell, accused of calling police effing plebs - short for plebian, or commoner - when they told him to take his bicycle through Downing Street's pedestrian gate. Mitchell was then accused of stonewalling officials from the powerful police union when they met with him about the incident.

This is what one of them, Inspector Ken Mackaill, said at the time.

KEN MACKAILL: I think Mr. Mitchell has no option but to resign. He's continuing to refuse to elaborate on what happened. I think his position is untenable.

BARKER: Except, Britons now know, Mitchell did elaborate that day and apologized. It turns out he'd secretly recorded that meeting with those union officials and the BBC broadcast part of it - with the offending expletive beeped out.

ANDREW MACKAILL: But I did say, you know, under my breath, but audibly in frustration: I thought you lot were supposed to (BLEEP) help us. I did say that. And it is for that that I apologize.

BARKER: Now the union officials are being called liars by no less than Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, who said Mitchell was wrongly done by.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: He is owed an apology. the conduct of these officers was not acceptable, these things should be properly investigated.

BARKER: So last week, the three union officials were hauled before British lawmakers, where they denied deliberately misleading the public. Here's committee chairman Keith Vaz with one of then, Sergeant Chris Jones.

KEITH VAZ: You don't think you've done anything wrong?

SGT. CHRIS JONES: At the moment, no. I'm not convinced that we have done anything wrong.

VAZ: Well, you'd know now after a year, wouldn't you?

JONES: Yeah.

VAZ: After a year?

JONES: I'm not convinced that we've done anything wrong.

VAZ: You've done nothing wrong. You've nothing to apologize for? That's your view?

JONES: At the moment, yes.

BARKER: The men have also denied deliberately targeting Mitchell as part of a union campaign against government cuts to local police forces. No police officers have been disciplined despite the strong urging of the independent police watchdog.

It's a pattern that's repeated itself for decades, says investigative journalist Tom Mangold. He's been following police scandals since the 1970s.

TOM MANGOLD: If they're prepared to frame a Cabinet minister - a Cabinet minister - for something he didn't do then who else are they prepared to frame? And that's really what's beginning to worry people.

BARKER: It's worrying British Home Secretary Theresa May. She has announced that a new, beefed-up police watchdog will begin operating next year.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.