David Cameron praised Andrew Mitchell’s “calm and rational” response to the plebgate affair yesterday in another hint that the former chief whip could be set for a comeback.
The Prime Minister said Tories had “a lot of sympathy” for their colleague’s situation.
He also disclosed that he met Mr Mitchell in Number 10 on Monday – the day before Channel 4 News aired allegations that a serving policeman posed as a member of the public and falsely claimed to have witnessed his now notorious spat in Downing Street.
Mr Cameron’s comments, made to journalists during a trip to Afghanistan, came as the police continue to investigate the possibility that the ex-Cabinet minister was the victim of a conspiracy.
In a sign of deepening tensions with the police, Mr Mitchell has reportedly sought assurances that Scotland Yard chief Bernard Hogan-Howe will not be involved in the investigation.
The former chief whip is said to be sceptical about the Commissioner’s impartiality after he said this week that he still had no reason to doubt the account of Downing Street police of their altercation with Mr Mitchell.
“I don’t think from what I’ve heard up to now that it’s really affected the original account of the officers at the scene,” he told LBC radio.
Police arrested and questioned a second man in their investigation yesterday. A 23-year-old, who is not a police officer or member of police staff, was detained on suspicion of intentionally encouraging or assisting the commission of an indictable offence on December 14, Scotland Yard said.
That date was a day before a member of the diplomatic protection group was arrested on suspicion of misconduct in public office.
The officer is said to have emailed his local MP, Tory deputy chief whip John Randall, posing as a member of the public and accusing Mr Mitchell of calling police “plebs”.
The Met has widened the investigation amid growing tensions with senior Conservatives over the treatment of Mr Mitchell, who resigned in October after a month of huge pressure.
Around 30 officers are working on the inquiry, which is being supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
Asked yesterday whether Mr Mitchell could make a comeback, Mr Cameron said: “One step at a time. Let’s get to the truth about what happened.
“But I think it has been an extraordinary development, frankly, to find a police officer apparently posing as a member of the public, pretending to have been outside Downing Street at the time and then trying to blacken the name of a Cabinet minister.”
London mayor Boris Johnson told Nick Ferrari on LBC 97.3 radio the matter was serious “because everybody in London has a right to expect the police to be fair and scrupulous in their testimony about what may or may not have happened”.