10 Jan 2014

‘Plebgate’ officer convicted – but big questions remain

So Keith Wallis has admitted his guilt, and pending psychiatric reports next month, faces the prospect of several months in jail.  It was Channel 4 News and the Dispatches programme which first publicly revealed in December 2012, that a serving member of the diplomatic protection group had written an email to his local MP, John Randall, (who also happened to be deputy chief whip).  He falsely claimed to have been a member of the public who had witnessed events on the night that Andrew Mitchell had his altercation with police working in Downing Street over whether he could ride his bike out of the main gates.  “Imagine our horror,” wrote Pc Wallis in his email, “when we heard MR MITCHELL shout very loudly at the police officers guarding ‘YOU F****** PLEBES!!’ and ‘YOU THINK YOU RUN THE F****** COUNTRY’…”

Pre News refresh player – this is the default player for the C4 news site – please do not delete. Ziad

But as things stand Mr Wallis, who also resigned today from the Metropolitan Police, is likely to be the only police officer to face criminal charges over the so-called “plebgate” scandal.  Four other serving Met officers face charges of gross misconduct over the improper disclosure of information, and two other police officers face more minor local misconduct hearings.

But the Pc who had the argument with Mr Mitchell, Pc Toby Rowland, faces neither criminal nor misconduct action, and seems to stand by his very similar account that Mitchell said: “You don’t run this f****** government … You’re f****** plebs.”  The Met seems believe his version of events.

But the Metropolitan Police maintains that Keith Wallis acted as a lone wolf.  “Detectives have found no evidence to suggest that any officer involved in the incident at the gate was involved with PC Wallis or aware of the fact that he had contacted his MP in this way.”

Andrew Mitchell was hoping that Keith Wallis would actually plead not guilty, simply because that would allow the case to be examined properly in court, and for Pc Wallis and other officers perhaps to be cross-examined about the extent to which police colluded in this matter.

Instead today’s court hearing lasted only about ten minutes, and we await a longer sentencing hearing on Thursday 6 February.  Keith Wallis’s high-powered QC, Patrick Gibbs, said today that he’ll then provide background as to why his client did what he, what did and didn’t happen in September 2012.  Mr Gibbs might like to tackle the following questions.

How did Pc Wallis hear about the incident?

First, given that Keith Wallis wasn’t working in Downing Street on the night of the original incident, or even on duty, how did he get to hear about the incident?  What contact did he have with police colleagues over his email?  Did anyone put him up to it, or encourage him to write it?  But the biggest question of all is how do Gibbs and his client explain the similarities between what Wallis wrote in his email to Randall and the police “log”, written up by Toby Rowland, which was published in the Daily Telegraph three nights later.

Pc Wallis quotes Mitchell saying “You f****** plebs!!”; while Pc Rowland’s quote is “You’re f******  plebs.”  Pc Wallis cited Mitchell as saying “You think you run the f******  country,” compared with Pc Rowland’s: “You don’t run this f****** government.”

More important still, Pc Wallis said there were “several other tourists” at the gates of Downing Street, while Pc Rowland’s version is that “There were several members of public present as is the norm opposite the pedestrian gate.”  Both are rubbish, since the CCTV shows there is just one man with a rucksack outside the gates, who walks up and down a bit.

Andrew Mitchell’s name still not cleared

Today’s conviction of Keith Wallis is good news for Andrew Mitchell, but it still doesn’t clear his name.  Indeed, it’s possible that Mitchell may never clear his name conclusively so long as the policeman on duty on the gate, Toby Rowland, stands by what he wrote at the time.

Mitchell’s best remaining hope seems to rest on the two libel actions relating to the case, and these could involve policemen being cross-examined in court.   Andrew Mitchell’s libel action against the Sun newspaper is due to come to trial later this year, followed by a defamation case which Toby Rowland is now taking against Mitchell.  But these libel disputes may preclude a quick return to government.  Would David Cameron want a senior Cabinet minister to spend several weeks in court conducting two high-profile libel cases around the time of a general election?

As for Keith Wallis, a senior QC told me told me today that he might get a jail sentence of between 12 and 18 months.  But Pc Wallis appears to be in a bad way mentally, and we learned today that the judge will be presented with psychiatric reports on Wallis’s state of mind both in September 2012 and now.   I myself, Andrew Mitchell and others,were warned by senior figures in government and in the police over the last year that Wallis had threatened to commit suicide, or might seriously harm himself.  I also understand that because of his mental problems it was several months before the police were able to interview Wallis properly.  This raises questions as to how somebody with such a background was ever allowed to serve in the Diplomatic Protection Group, the corps of armed officers who protect the Prime Minister and other senior politicians in Dowing Street.

Keith Wallis ended his original email to John Randall with the words: “I realise nothing will come of this letter, nor do I expect anything to.”

How wrong he was.

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