Thursday 20 December 2012

A man and his bicycle on an important street

The original event:

On the evening of 19th September 2012, the former government Chief Whip (Mr Andrew Mitchell MP) cycled along Downing Street in the direction of Whitehall.  The Guardian (19th December) has some CCTV pictures - Pleb row: what does CCTV show?    Mr Mitchell can be seen, on his bicycle, at time 19:36:01 proceeding toward Whitehall.    A short time later, he arrived at the gates across the entrance to Downing Street.  The Police Officers on duty can be seen by the gates.  He probably arrived at the gates by around 19:36:20 (latest).  At time 19:36:47, Mr Mitchell can be seen, with his bicycle, walking out of the side gate - a further CCTV picture of him leaving via the gate is here.  An Officer opened the gate for him and closed it afterwards.

There is no sound recording with the CCTV.  What happened in the short time between Mr Mitchell arriving at the gate and him leaving the street - a period of time of around 27 seconds?   It appears that the officers did not wish to open the main gates and so Mr Mitchell was asked to exit via the side gate.  Mr Mitchell has admitted making some remarks to the officers and, afterwards, he apologised for whatever he had said and the apology was accepted.   Two Police Officers stated that Mr Mitchell had called them "fucking plebs" but Mr Mitchell has consistently denied using those words.

The event was reported
in the national press - for example, The Sun 22nd September - Top Cop calls for Tory Chief Whip to quit over 'pleb' rant

Public Order Act 1986 section 5:

Assuming that something untoward had been said, here is a situation which, if dealt with by law at all, would probably merit no more than a charge under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986.  This is the least serious of the offences in the 1986 Act - an Act passed after a Law Commission review of public order offending prompted by the 1984 Miner's Strike. The offence is triable summarily (in the Magistrates' Court) and, upon conviction, the maximum fine is level 3 (currently £1000).

Section 5:  (1) A person is guilty of an offence if he - (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, 0r (b)  ..... , within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

Had the Police Officers in Downing Street considered that Mr Mitchell was engaging in "offensive" conduct then he could have been warned and, if he then engaged in further such conduct immediately or shortly after the warning he could have been arrested without warrant - section 5(4).  "Offensive conduct"means conduct the constable reasonably suspects to constitute an offence under this section .... s.5(5)  

Mr Mitchell was NOT arrested and neither was he charged with any offence but there were to be other ramifications for him since, in October 2012, he felt that he had to resign his government position.

The story develops:

It now appears that some 30 Metropolitan Police Officers (The Guardian 19th December) are engaged in an investigation into the matter. This can, it seems, be explained by some further developments.

1.   An e-mail was sent by a constituent to the Deputy Chief Whip (John Randall MP) who passed the email on to No.10 - see Daily Mail 19th December  This constituent claimed to have seen and heard the incident.  It is said that the e-mail contains an identical story to that set out at the time by the officers who had been involved with Mr Mitchell.  The e-mail was sent from Ruislip (North-West London) and said:  "Other people/tourists standing with us were also shocked and some were even, inadvertently, filming the incident … the public looked visibly shocked." 

2.   A Police Officer was arrested over the leak of the Police log of the incident - see The Independent 17th December.  The constable, who serves in the Diplomatic Protection Group, was detained on suspicion of misconduct in public office.   He is now on police bail.

3.   A 23 year old man, not employed by the Police, has also been arrested - The Guardian 20th December.  The man was arrested on suspicion of intentionally encouraging or assisting the commission of an indictable offence.  Reports are not making it clear which indictable offence is in issue.

So, where does this leave Mr Mitchell?
Andrew Mitchell MP

Mr Mitchell has certainly never denied that he said something to the officers in Downing Street .  He apologised for whatever he said and we, the public, were told that the apology had been accepted.  Mr Mitchell has consistently denied using the word "plebs."  He was not arrested at the time and has not been charged with any offence.

Mr Mitchell further challenges the statements that there were many people watching the events - see again his interview in Pleb row: what does CCTV show?   The email stated - "other people/tourists standing with us were also shocked ....."  It is not clear where these other people were, if they were there at all.  The CCTV pictures appear to show just a few people walking along Whitehall past the Downing Street gates.  Unless others were definitely there watching the event, the value of this email as evidence in support of other police statements must be in tatters and the further question is raised as to whether the email was, in some way, mischievous.

There was massive schadenfreude at the political downfall of Mr Mitchell. Nevertheless, all citizens (irrespective of their position in life and irrespective of whether they are popular or unpopular figures) deserve fair treatment by the Police.  The focus is now upon them in this interesting matter which clearly has some considerable distance yet to travel !

Other points:

Interestingly, the House of Lords has voted to remove the word "insulting" from section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 - The Guardian 12th December.  It remains to be seen whether this change is brought into law.

The gates across Downing Street were put there in 1989 - see Downing Street.    Certainly, for most of its history, Downing Street was just another London thoroughfare linking Whitehall to St. James' Park.  The legal basis for the gates is considered by David Allen Green in The New Statesman 19th December.


  1. The event was given legs to run and run....
    but for what purpose? to keep/mask some other circumstance/story?

    Wecome to News management today.

    1. Perhaps. The story pretty much died after Mr Mitchell's resignation but it has all surfaced again very recently due to the arrests and also the CCTV getting into the public domain.

  2. You are wrong here.

    Mitchell admitted using the F word.

    According to CPS guidance on this Obiter, other people need not make a formal complaint - they only need to be in the vicinity....see guidance on S.5 at

    I quote:
    "There must be a person within the sight or hearing of the suspect who is likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress by the conduct in question. A police officer may be such a person, but remember that this is a question of fact to be decided in each case by the magistrates. In determining this, the magistrates may take into account the familiarity which police officers have with the words and conduct typically seen in incidents of disorderly conduct. (DPP v Orum [1988] Crim L R 848).

    Although the existence of a person who is caused harassment alarm and distress must be proved, there is no requirement that they actually give evidence. In appropriate cases, the offence may be proved on a police officer's evidence alone. "

    The CCTV proves there were members of the public nearby, in addition to the other police officers. Mitchell has admitted to using the 'F' word.
    Why no charges?

    1. With respect, not wrong. Mr Mitchell has consistently denied using the words "fucking plebs."

      It may be that all he said was - "I thought you lot were supposed to fucking help us." This much seems to have been admitted by Mitchell.

      A good article on the matter is at New Statesman 19th December.