UK Politics

'Plebgate': Officers face fresh inquiry over Mitchell meeting

Chris Jones, Stuart Hinton and Ken MacKaill (L-R) leaving the constituency office of Andrew Mitchell Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Chris Jones, Stuart Hinton and Ken MacKaill, pictured left to right, met Andrew Mitchell at his local office

Officers accused of giving misleading accounts of a meeting with former chief whip Andrew Mitchell are facing an investigation by the police watchdog.

They will also be called back before an influential committee of MPs over evidence they gave to them previously.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission said there were "procedural irregularities" in an earlier probe.

The three Police Federation reps had been told they would face no action over the so-called Plebgate affair.

In September 2012, Mr Mitchell was accused of calling Downing Street officers "plebs" after they refused to let him ride his bicycle through the main gates.

The then cabinet member apologised for using bad language but denied using the word pleb. He later resigned as chief whip as the row continued.

'Misleading answers'

A month later, Mr Mitchell held a meeting in his Sutton Coldfield constituency with Det Sgt Stuart Hinton, Insp Ken MacKaill and Sgt Chris Jones from the federation in an attempt to smooth things over.

After the meeting the officers, who represent rank and file officers in Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands respectively, briefed the media.

A transcript of a recording Mr Mitchell made of the meeting contradicted the officers' account of what was said.

Ch Insp Jerry Reakes-Williams, head of professional standards at Warwickshire and West Mercia Police, carried out an investigation and concluded they had a case to answer for misconduct, but their senior officers disagreed.

Now the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has announced it will conduct its own investigation into the officers' behaviour.

Det Sgt Hinton and Sgt Jones have additionally been called to reappear before the Home Affairs Select Committee after being accused of giving "misleading" answers to MPs last month. The committee wants them "to apologise for misleading it".

'Astonishing'

IPCC deputy chairwoman Deborah Glass said: "Evidence given to the Home Affairs Select Committee on October 23 revealed a number of procedural irregularities between the production of the draft and final West Mercia reports.

Image copyright PA
Image caption A confrontation between Mr Mitchell and police sparked the "plebgate" saga

"On August 12 2013, a final report was provided to the IPCC. It contained a single set of conclusions to the effect that no case to answer for misconduct was made out against any of the three officers under investigation.

"However, it is clear from CI Reakes-Williams's evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee that this conclusion did not reflect his opinion. His opinion was (and remains) that a case to answer for misconduct was made out.

"However, he mistakenly believed that his report should reflect the view of the 'appropriate authorities' - the senior officers in each of the forces involved.

"The 'appropriate authorities' are the final decision-making bodies, and they are entitled to reach a different decision to the conclusions of the investigator.

"However, this is an entirely separate process. The procedure described above has conflated the two."

Public confidence

Ms Glass said she did not have the power to reopen the investigation when she gave evidence to MPs on the same day as the officers.

But she has now said the investigation was incomplete because the final report did not include Ch Insp Reakes-Williams' opinion.

She said the IPCC was launching its own inquiry because public confidence in the police was at stake.

Labour's Keith Vaz, the home affairs committee chairman, said MPs were "appalled" by the officers' original evidence and that if they did not "correct the record" they would be in contempt of Parliament.

"This resembles a great work of fiction. The fact that a 45-minute encounter in an office in Sutton Coldfield could've taken a year to investigate... beggars belief," Mr Vaz added.

He said he wanted a quick resolution to the saga, which would allow the officers and Mr Mitchell to "get on with" their lives.

Conservative David Davis, a former shadow home secretary and friend of Mr Mitchell, said the police officers "clearly set out to try to bring him down".

"Policemen can arrest you, charge you, appear in court and give evidence against you and, generally speaking, the jury will believe the police officer so telling the truth should be fundamental to what they do in their everyday lives.

"They clearly didn't do that here and their own chief constables seem to think that didn't require either a misconduct or a gross misconduct disciplinary hearing. That's astonishing, it really is," he added.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the select committee had done an important job in laying bare the failure of the process to deal with the meeting and the case should now be "independently re-determined."

West Mercia Police said the quality of its original investigation "remains unquestioned" but it accepted there were procedural errors in the investigative reports which began with "a misunderstanding" between the IPCC and West Mercia police investigators.

The force added that it had always maintained the investigation should have been conducted independently and so it welcomed the IPCC's decision to investigate using their own staff.

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Bob Jones said he welcomed the IPCC's decision to independently consider the investigation.

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