21 Oct 2013

Plebgate: MPs to grill inspector who said colleagues should face misconduct action

The home affairs select committee has just announced a new star witness at their hearing into plebgate on Wednesday afternoon.

He’s Chief Inspector Jerry Reakes-Williams, of the professional standards office which jointly operates for both the Warwickshire and West Mercia Police forces.

Last week the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) Deputy Chair Deborah Glass claimed that Reakes-Williams’ report into the Sutton Coldfield aspect of the plebgate affair had originally said three Police Federation officials should face disciplinary action, in contrast to the final report which seems to have been watered down, and says they shouldn’t face action.

Mr Reakes-Williams is reported to have expressed disquiet that his recommendation for disciplinary action was overruled.

Wednesday afternoon’s meeting of the Home Affairs Select Committee promises to be a pretty dramatic occasion, and the committee chairman Keith Vaz and his colleagues are determined to get to the bottom of matters.21_mitchell_g_w

This time their target is not the Metropolitan Police, or its commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, or who did what when in Downing Street and at the London end of plebgate events, but the subject of last week’s controversy.

Instead it’s the famous meeting Andrew Mitchell held in his Sutton Coldfield constituency on 12 October last year with three officials of the Police Federation from the West Midlands region. After the meeting the three Fed men came out and urged that Mitchell should resign, or even be sacked, for failing to give them an account of what he’d said in Downing Street. But two months later Channel 4 News and Dispatches broadcast a tape recorded by Mr Mitchell showing he HAD given the Fed men his version of what he’d said at the gates of Downing Street.

The inquiry into the Sutton Coldfield meeting, conducted by West Mercia police, concluded that the three Fed men should not face disciplinary action for misleading the world afterwards. But that wasn’t good enough for Mitchell, David Cameron, the Home Secretary Thesesa May, or several other politicians, who all want the police chiefs to apologise for the behaviour of the Fed reps, who are all serving officers from within their own forces. And Deborah Glass made it clear last week that she thinks the three men should have faced misconduct action. It was Glass who also revealed that such a course had in fact been recommended by an earlier version of the report prepared by West Mercia police.

On Wednesday afternoon, the home affairs select committee will grill seven witnesses, in four batches. They start with Deborah Glass and her chairman, Dame Anne Owers. Next up, will be Chief Inspector Jerry Reakes-Williams, and it will be fascinating to see how far Mr Reakes-Williams is willing to go in spilling beans. Will he explain why his report was watered down, and where the initiative came from?

After later, acting for the defence as it were, we’ll hear first from Steve Williams, national chairman of the Police Federation, and finally the three chief constables from the relevant forces: Chris Sims, West Midlands; David Shaw, West Mercia; and Andy Parker, Warwickshire.

More important, the committee will receive interesting documents, and it plans to publish them. These will include the first version of the Reakes-Williams’s report (which recommended disciplinary action) and the final version (which didn’t). And West Mercia police also tell me they will give the committee the results of the review they are currently and quickly conducting into the Reakes-Williams inquiry – a review they announced last Thursday evening in response to the IPCC’s public and serious concerns.

What’s strange in a way, is that the committee hasn’t actually summoned the local Police Federation reps themselves – Inspector Ken MacKaill (West Mercia); Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton; (Warwickshire) and Sergeant Chris Jones (West Midlands). Interviewing the Fed’s national chairman Steve Williams instead seems a bit irrelevant, since Mr Williams wasn’t national chairman at the time of the Sutton Coldfield meeting. What’s more, Mr Williams told me in February he thought his local West Midlands region officials had gone too far in their campaign against Mr Mitchell.

“We did, in fact, tell our colleagues to stop but they went on,” Williams said in an interview for the Channel 4 Dispatches programme. “But there’s an awful lot of angry police officers out there,” he added.

Andrew Mitchell has several friends and supporters on the Home Affairs Committee. As well as the five Conservative members, the Labour chairman Keith Vaz is a long-standing friend of Mitchell’s, dating back to their days as fellow-debaters in the Cambridge Union in the 1970s. But because of the principle of “double jeopardy”, the committee cannot force the chief constables to reopen their inquiry and ensure the Police Fed men are disciplined. Instead the best the MPs, and Andrew Mitchell, can hope for is a strong apology from the three chief constables, and a statement that they mishandled matters.

If the chiefs don’t make deliver an apology, and stick by their officers, the home affairs committee is unlikely to let the matter drop. Nor will Andrew Mitchell’s many friends at Westminster and in the press.

But it would also be good to hear from the PR man who orchestrated their “PC Pleb” campaign, the controversial broadcaster and former Sun columnist Jon Gaunt. Strangely for a man who is normally so loquacious,  Mr Gaunt has been silent on this matter for many months.

MPs should get a pretty honest and truthful account from Mr Reakes-Williams, for he is an an evangelical Christian, and an elder of his local church in Worcester. Mr Reakes-Williams also says on the church website that he takes a “keen interest in politics and current affairs”, much to the “consternation” of his wife Alison.

Follow @michaelcrick on Twitter.