'Plebgate' police officers' honesty queried
- 15 October 2013
- From the section UK
The police watchdog has questioned the "honesty and integrity" of police officers who met Andrew Mitchell MP over the "plebgate" row that led to his quitting the government.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission said West Mercia Police were wrong to conclude the three officers had no case to answer for misconduct.
It follows concerns the officers gave a false account of the meeting.
The Police Federation said it was "shocked" by the IPCC statement.
Mr Mitchell welcomed the IPCC's findings, and said he and his family had "waited in vain" for the officers to be held to account over the meeting they held with him in their capacity as Police Federation representatives.
Home Secretary Theresa May said it would be "quite wrong" for West Mercia Police not to take disciplinary action against the officers in light of the IPCC report, which "made troubling reading".
Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz said David Shaw, chief constable of West Mercia Police, would be summoned before MPs next week to explain why misconduct hearings were not held.
In a statement, Mr Shaw, along with the chief constables of Warwickshire and West Midlands Police, said they welcomed the opportunity to appear before the committee.
They said the decisions following the investigation had been "carefully considered".
West Mercia police and crime commissioner Bill Longmore said he is seeking meeting with the Home Secretary to discuss the IPCC's "critical" statement.
Eight people, including five police officers, have been arrested and bailed over the September 2012 row at the security gates to Downing Street. The Crown Prosecution Service is currently considering charges.
The row occurred when Mr Mitchell was told by police not to take his bike through the main gates on 19 September. The former Tory chief whip has apologised for an outburst, but has always disputed claims he described policemen as "plebs".
As the row between the then cabinet minister and the police intensified after the original allegation, Mr Mitchell met Inspector Ken MacKaill, of West Mercia Police, Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton, of Warwickshire Police, and Sergeant Chris Jones, of West Midlands Police - acting on behalf of the Police Federation which represents rank-and-file officers - at his constituency office in Sutton Coldfield.
The IPCC said Mr Mitchell met the officers to "clear the air". A transcript of the meeting shows he apologised for swearing at the police officers but denied using the word "plebs".
In comments made after the meeting, one of the officers, Inspector MacKaill claimed the former chief whip would not provide an account of the incident, and called for his resignation.
The transcript also shows that during that meeting, representatives from the three forces acknowledged that the integrity of their Metropolitan Police colleagues was no longer intact. One of the representatives stated the London officers had "put words in your mouth that are untrue".
West Mercia Police conducted an internal investigation into claims the three officers were trying to discredit Mr Mitchell and concluded that there was no case to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct.
It said that there was no deliberate intention to lie to journalists. But on Wednesday the IPCC - which oversaw the West Mercia investigation - said it disagreed.
Ms Glass said: "In my opinion the evidence indicates an issue of honesty and integrity, not merely naive or poor professional judgement."
She said a misconduct panel should be held to determine whether the three officers gave a false account in a deliberate attempt to discredit Mr Mitchell in pursuit of a wider agenda.
But, she added, that because Mr Mitchell had chosen not to make a formal complaint, she was powerless to direct misconduct proceedings.
However, a statement from Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands Police disagreed. It said the IPCC had chosen not to exercise powers that would have allowed it to order the three forces to hold misconduct proceedings.
"Despite a thorough investigation under the supervision of the IPCC, we do not believe that there is sufficient evidence to support the view that the officers concerned should face misconduct proceedings."
A statement from the Police Federation of England and Wales hit out at the IPCC deputy chair for making a "personal outburst".
"Either the IPCC are capable of supervising investigations or they are not. If they feel that they are capable of doing so, having had the opportunity to monitor and provide input into the process, the proper and responsible course must be to accept the investigation findings," it said.
In his statement, Mr Mitchell said the officers had been able to secure a meeting with him after the original allegation "under false pretences, openly misrepresent the contents of that meeting, and on the back of that misrepresentation call for his resignation at a press conference they had assembled for the purpose".
He said it was a matter of "deep concern" that the police forces employing the three officers had concluded their conduct had not brought the police service into disrepute, adding that most people would disagree.
"It is a decision which will undermine confidence in the ability of the police to investigate misconduct when the reputation of the police service as a whole is at stake," he said.
Mrs May said the government was taking measures to "bolster integrity" in the police and the new College of Policing would be publishing a new code of ethics.
"These sorts of incident will strike at the heart of that issue of trust," she said.
Meanwhile former police minister Nick Herbert told the BBC a "grave injustice" had been done to Mr Mitchell. There was a real danger "the public had lost confidence in the police," he added.