Dear Andrew Mitchell: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

Dear Mr Mitchell,

My facial muscles are getting a bit tired, and it’s all your fault. I’ve been alternating over the last few days between a wry smile and open-mouthed disbelief at the counter-offensive you and your pals have been trying to mount over the whole ‘plebgate’ saga.

The BBC News Channel, and various newspapers, have been featuring prominently the claims, by you and a cadre of your mates, that the recently-disclosed CCTV footage of the incident ‘exonerates’ you. You’ve apparently claimed you were ‘stitched up’ and that the ‘awful, toxic language’ was

hung round my neck in a concerted attempt to toxify the Conservative party and destroy my political career.

while one of your allies has written extensively about the matter, implying that it happened because of a ‘cancer’ of corruption in the police force.

I’m afraid you go too far, and on more than one count.

Evidence and absence

First and foremost, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I’ve watched the CCTV footage, and (and this is where the mouth-opening disbelief tends to take over from the wry smile for a while) I haven’t seen anything that remotely ‘exonerates’ you. The footage has no sound, and neither the necessary angles nor the clarity to allow any lip-reading.

It does not in any way prove that you didn’t say ‘f***ing plebs’ and the rest of it. It does seem to show that there wasn’t a small crowd of onlookers, which undermines the email supposedly from a member of the public that there was. Or at least, that one angle does – for other angles and an outstanding analysis of the footage from other angles, see this blog post by Gracie Samuels, though I warn you, you might not enjoy it.

However, for the moment let’s take the footage you’re clinging to as definitive, for the sake of argument. While it’s very shocking (if true) that a fake email was written by a police officer (whose grammar and spelling you criticise – I trust mine will meet with your lofty standards, even if it is written by a proud pleb), all it proves is that the police went too far in trying to vindicate themselves after you denied using the words. It does not prove that you didn’t say it.

Of course, it doesn’t prove that you did, either. But you’re going far too far by saying, and having your friends say on your behalf, that it exonerates you. It does nothing of the sort.

It still all comes down to claim and counter-claim, and I have to say that I’d generally take the word of even a bent copper over that of a minister from this government – and there is nothing at all to suggest that the police officer at the gate is bent or even mistaken. For you already to be claiming that you’re now exonerated and should have your old job back smacks of desperation, mixed with a good dollop of the very arrogance that makes it so easy for everyone to believe that you did say ‘f***ing pleb’, ‘You think you run the **** country’ and so on.

What adds to my conviction that you almost certainly did say what you’re accused of saying is your absolute, adamantine refusal – in spite of repeated challenges – to say publicly what you did say. You see, if I found myself in your situation and was wrongly accused, I’d make sure everyone knew, word for word, exactly what I did say. This would counterbalance the words I was falsely accused of saying and would give the media something else to chew on and regurgitate instead of the constant repetition of the ‘false’ words as truth. I’d do this as a private individual, and I’d most certainly do it as a politician, if I were such.

Yet you, while admitting in vague terms that you did swear at the police officer, consistently refused to elaborate publicly what else you said – even when asked in Parliament to do so. Parliamentary privilege would have allowed you complete freedom not only to say what you did say without fear of contradiction by the police or media, but even to accuse the police in stinging terms of the ‘stitch-up’. It appears you told a police federation panel that you’d said ‘I thought you were supposed to f***ing help us’, but even when their spokesman didn’t make it clear that you’d explained even that far, you didn’t cry ‘foul’ and didn’t bring out the recording you’d made of the session.

Of course, at that point you didn’t know about the video footage, so perhaps you were worried that these witnesses would turn up and verify that you had said what you were accused of saying. That would be an understandable reason for not vindicating yourself vehemently while you still had the Chief Whip’s job, while you were prepared to tell the police federation (nobody has said you were under oath, as far as I can tell) an edited version of what you said in the hope that it would go away. There might be one, but I can’t think of another scenario that fits the facts.

Toxic Tories

The other way in which you went too far – and here the wry smile starts to predominate again – is in suggesting that this incident ‘toxified’ your party. To that, I would ask you: ‘Can you ‘toxify’ arsenic, or strychnine, or anything else that’s already poisonous?

Your party is toxic because of its sustained assault on the most vulnerable in our society while it heaps advantage on the already-privileged; because of its proven links to media and business interests that it then goes on to promote; because of its readiness to demonise anyone as a prelude to stripping them of the little they have, in order to win the support of the foolish and gullible; because of its willingness to lie for the sake of a soundbite; and yes, because of the palpable arrogance of its representatives.

You don’t ‘toxify’ what’s already toxic. Instead, you label it so that no one takes it by mistake. The label doesn’t change what’s in the pot or bottle – it just makes it clearer to everyone what it contains.

That’s all that ‘plebgate’ has done. Whatever the truth about that specific incident, few of us really doubt that most, if not all, of the Tories in Parliament do consider ordinary people plebs or worse. It’s perfectly obvious in the statements your colleagues make in Parliament and elsewhere, in the decisions you take and who suffers from them – and who benefits.

So please, reel yourself and your chums in just a little on the ‘stitched up’ rhetoric. It’s possible someone in the police crossed the line in his/her zeal to vindicate a fellow-officer, but you weren’t ‘stitched up’. You – and your Parliamentary colleagues – have simply been exposed. Shown more clearly for what you are.

That’s a different thing entirely.


  1. One thing you didn’t think of, the CCTV footage did NOT show a time let alone a day of recording, so how are any of us to know when it was taken???!!

    I trust neither the Tories (nasty party) or the police (particularly the Met!), both are lying to make themselves look better than they actually are, bastards!!

  2. The guilty always” protest to much”. Those who “Stich themselves up by lowering the tone of our great Parliament with LIES & Deceit cannot claim the name of GENTLEMEN

  3. 2 points of detail – (1) Mitchell revealed, for the first time, exactly what he said at the material time during a (tape recorded) meeting with West Midlands Police Fed reps in his Sutton Coldfield Constituency office on 12 Oct 2012. But minutes later, the Fed reps emerged from meeting, calling on him to resign, claiming he had said nothing new (See C4 Dispatches Programme).

    (2) The leaked police log *also* stated several member of the public were visibly shocked at the time. This and the fake email are both undermined by the CCTV footage.

    I smell a stitch up.

  4. Also, you said “It’s possible someone in the police crossed the line in his/her zeal to vindicate a fellow-officer”. I assume you meant the truth/lie line? (remember Hillsborough, Birmingham 6, Guildford 4 etc?). This is actually the biggest issue about the Mitchell case, I couldn’t care less whether he stays on back benches or come back to government, but I do care about police officers lying and leaking confidential reports/information to the press (Leveson refers). As a lawyer/ex-cop, I can tell you that in light of the CCTV evidence, the leaked log would not stand up in court had Mitchell been charged with a public order offence, credibility is not divisible. The evidence is either the whole truth (ie not truth peppered with a few lies), or nothing.

    1. That’s exactly the line I mean – but nothing’s proven yet, so ‘may have’ will have to do. I think you need to follow the link to someone else’s analysis of all the footage – not just the one Mr Mitchell wants us to focus on.

      The evidence was never enough for a criminal conviction, nor was there ever any indication a prosecution was considered. But it was certainly suggestive, especially in combination with his refusal to say what he did say when he had many chances to do so.

      If a police officer lied, it’s very important that he be punished for it – but none of that bears on the point PPC my article, which is that Mitchell is anything but ‘exonerated’.

  5. Some good points there; although in today’s Sunday Times he does seem to give his version of exactly what was said at the gates? (front page of news review section)

    1. That’s ‘after the horse has bolted’, though – he had ample opportunity from the outset, was even pressed to say what he’d said, and refused to do so when it might have made a difference.

      1. See my post at 6.53 pm above. Mitchell told West Midland Police Fed reps exactly what he said (it’s on tape). Maybe he should have spoken publicly about it too but point is, he came clean to the police.

        Re the “exonerated” point, no he has not been; it’s just “pleb” allegation not yet proven.

  6. “Plebs” or not – why was he trying to get through a blocked gate in the first place? And the loss of temper does not indicate a balanced man…

  7. Loving this! As a constituent of Mr Mitchell, I find him abhorrent and was very pleased and proud when Labour won the council election this year. Typically the Tories blamed it on all sorts of things as they couldn’t believe a true blue area would vote aginst them. Unfortunately the local press are brown nosers of the highest order when it comes to Mitchell. A friend of mine tells me that Mitchell usually drops a box of Heroes chocolates into Sutton police station every Christmas for the “Heroes”. My friend replies with “that box will go far with 250 officers here…” The issues about the extra payments Mitchell sanctioned when he was Overseas Minister has gone quiet – do you know anything about this? Happy christmas and keep the blogs flowing John Bassett


  8. MItchell revealed for the first time exactly what he did say in the “Sunday Times” a paper that has poor circulation and is behind a paywall on the internet.
    Excellent article by the way.

    1. I meant your article is excellent not that of Mitchell’s which I haven’t read, due to the fact that I refuse to give Murdoch a pound of my money.

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