The Metropolitan Police commissioner admits that he had not seen CCTV subsequently revealed by a Channel 4 News and Dispatches investigation when he stood by his officers in the “plebgate” row.
Giving evidence before the home affairs select committee, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe also admitted that in the early days of the so-called plebgate saga, he believed his officers’ account of the exchange with then chief whip Andrew Mitchell without having seen the police log.
The saga, which took place in September, led to Mr Mitchell’s resignation from his cabinet post. It took place after an exchange at the gates of Downing Street when he wanted to wheel his bicycle through, but was prevented by officers at the gate.
Subsequently, an account appeared in The Sun newspaper, in which it was alleged that Mr Mitchell called the officers “f*****g plebs” and “morons”.
Although he consistently denied using those words, a police log which appeared in the Daily Telegraph a few days later appeared to corroborate the police account.
The investigation also revealed an email sent by an purported eyewitness to Uxbridge MP John Randall which was then used against Mr Mitchell.
At the home affairs select committee, Sir Bernard said that he “couldn’t remember exactly” what evidence he had seen when the row first emerged.
But he added that he had only seen the CCTV after 18 December, when it was first aired on Channel 4 News.
“I had not seen the CCTV,” he said. “The only thing I had seen was the report on what our officers had said, broadly. I had seen a report of the evidence of what had been talked about by indpenedent officers.”
He continued: “I was unaware of the email, and we hadn’t looked at the CCTV. The inquiry was about Mr Mitchell’s behaviour, not about the police officers. It was entirely appropriate that the Cabinet Office were looking after that.”
He added that neither had he seen an email sent by a purported member of the public to Mr Randall until it was sent to him by Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood.
However, he admitted that it would be “a very serious matter” if the email were later found to be concocted.
In the face of repeated questioning over why he continued to back the police officers involved, Sir Bernard said that he had an “open mind” and that he would “pursue the evidence”.
He told the committee chairman, Keith Vaz: “I do have an open mind. If any comment that I have made left anyone thinking I couldn’t have an open mind, I’m sorry.”
Sir Bernard also confirmed that Scotland Yard has decided to take statements from 800 police officers in the diplomatic protection group, and 30 detectives are working on the investigation.
After it emerged that there were doubts over the police officers’ accounts, Sir Bernard cut short his holiday pledging that there would be a “ruthless search” for the truth. A police officer has been arrested in the wake of the row.