Police Federation reviews 'plebgate'

Andrew Mitchell
Image caption Andrew Mitchell has admitted swearing at officers during the incident in September

The body representing rank-and-file police officers has launched a review into issues raised by its handling of the "plebgate" row.

The Police Federation will appoint an independent figure in the new year to carry out the inquiry.

It follows controversy over officers in the West Midlands allegedly campaigning against Tory MP Andrew Mitchell.

He quit as chief whip after it was alleged he called Downing Street police "plebs", which he denies.

Mr Mitchell has admitted swearing at officers during the incident in September, but denies using the word "plebs" during angry exchanges.

He resigned from the government in October, following several weeks of criticism in the media.

Police Federation chairman Paul McKeever has acknowledged concerns that it "stoked up" the incident.

Earlier this week he said he would apologise to the MP if it was shown he had been wrongly accused of calling officers the name over their refusal to let him ride his bike through the gates.

'Distrust' claims

Mr McKeever has handed control to his successor-elect Steve Williams just over a month before he is officially due to leave the role, due to "pre-existing leave arrangements", the Federation said.

Announcing the review, Mr Williams said: "Recent events have shown that there are issues around the way the Police Federation nationally is able to lead and co-ordinate at a national, regional and local level," he said in a statement.

"As we enter a new era, my first act as chairman is to establish this independent panel to ensure that we as the Federation continue to represent the interests of our members in the most effective and efficient way."

Local branches organised protests by members wearing "PC Pleb" T-shirts and some demanded Mr Mitchell's sacking.

BBC political correspondent Robin Brant said it appeared the federation was conceding that involvement of some of its officers in what looked like an "anti-Mitchell" campaign had damaged its reputation and trust.

It came as one of the country's most senior police representatives denied the ongoing investigation into the row has exposed "distrust" between the police and politicians.

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, rejected criticisms that the relationship was worsening.

Healthy tension

Earlier this week, Met commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe publicly backed the two original officers who were present during the altercation in Downing Street.

Sources close to Mr Mitchell have said there has also been what is described as an "unsatisfactory" exchange of letters between the MP and the commissioner, which has reportedly further eroded the MP's confidence.

Sir Hugh said: "There's always been, and there should be, a healthy tension between politicians and the police service.

"Chief constables are operationally independent; they have to interpret government policy and deliver it fairly and impartially and then be held to account and I don't think this is prima facie evidence of a growing distrust."

Some 30 officers are working on the Metropolitan Police investigation into what happened and two men have been arrested so far.

A Diplomatic Protection Squad officer aged 52 was arrested last Saturday on suspicion of misconduct in public office.

Earlier this week Channel 4 News alleged that an officer had sent an email purporting to be from a member of the public who had witnessed the row.

A 23-year-old man, who was not a member of police staff, was also arrested last week on "on suspicion of intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence of misconduct in a public office". He was released on bail.

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