Government chief whip Andrew Mitchell has apologised for reportedly launching a tirade at police officers on duty in Downing Street.
The 56-year-old chief whip, a former army officer and UN peacekeeper, admitted he "did not treat the police with the respect they deserve" after they refused to open the central London street's main gates for him to ride his bicycle through, and tried to usher him through a side exit.
The row took place on Wednesday, the day after two police officers, Pcs Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone, were shot dead in Hattersley, Greater Manchester, prompting an outpouring of sympathy across the country.
The Sun reported that the millionaire minister called the officers "plebs", telling them to "learn your f****** place".
Mr Mitchell on Thursday night denied using the language but apologised to the officers. The MP for Sutton Coldfield, who was also a minister under John Major in the early 1990s, apologised in a statement.
"On Wednesday night I attempted to leave Downing Street via the main gate, something I have been allowed to do many times before," he said.
"I was told that I was not allowed to leave that way. While I do not accept that I used any of the words that have been reported, I accept I did not treat the police with the respect they deserve. I have seen the supervising sergeant and apologised, and will also apologise to the police officer involved."
Mr Mitchell, a keen cyclist, was reported by The Sun to also have called the police "morons". "Best you learn your f****** place. You don't run this f****** government. You're f****** plebs," it reported him as saying.
Prime Minister David Cameron is aware of the outburst, "is glad that Mitchell has apologised" and said "police should always be treated with respect", according to a spokeswoman for No 10.
Responding on Twitter to reports of Mr Mitchell's comments, shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said: "Some of these Tories are foul mouthed spoilt little brats and now one caught."