The “honesty and integrity” of three police officers accused of trying to discredit former Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell is queried by the police watchdog.
Inspector Ken MacKaill, Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton and Sergeant Chris Jones were accused of lying about what Mr Mitchell said in a meeting at his Sutton Coldfield constituency office held nearly a month after the so-called “plebgate” row erupted.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) concluded the Police Federation representatives should face a misconduct panel, but said it was powerless to enforce this as Andrew Mitchell had not made a formal complaint.
Home Secretary Theresa May said it was “quite wrong” for West Mercia police to fail to take disciplinary proceedings against the officers, adding: “The police need the trust of the public. These sorts of incident will strike at the heart of that issue of trust.” David Shaw, West Mercia’s chief constable, is to be summoned before MPs to explain the decision.
The original incident, in which Mr Mitchell was accused of calling officers guarding Downing Street “plebs” as he cycled through the main gates in September 2012, is the subject of a separate Metropolitan police inquiry following claims officers conspired against him.
The inquiry was triggered after an investigation by Channel 4 News and Dispatches raised doubts about officers’ accounts of the incident that were recorded in police logs (see video above).
The IPCC’s findings are in direct conflict with the result of an inquiry by West Mercia police, which concluded that Police Federation representatives from West Mercia, the West Midlands and Warwickshire had no case to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct.
The three officers were accused of deliberately misrepresenting what Mr Mitchell said during the meeting in October 2012 when they gave interviews immediately afterwards.
IPCC deputy chair Deborah Glass said there was “an issue of honesty and integrity, not merely naive or poor professional judgment”, adding: In the media and political climate of the day, I do not consider that the officers could have been in any doubt about the impact of their public statements on the pressure being brought on Mr Mitchell.
“As police officers, they had a responsibility to present a fair and accurate picture. Their motive seems plain: they were running a successful, high-profile, anti-cuts campaign and the account that he provided to them did not fit with their agenda.”
Ms Glass said the federation representatives must have known Mr Mitchell was under pressure to resign following scenes at the Conservative party conference at which federation members were seen wearing “PC Pleb” T-shirts.
She said: “It was clear that the parties had very different agendas for the meeting. Mr Mitchell saw it as an attempt to clear the air, while the officers focused on Mr Mitchell’s ‘version of events’ – that is what happened in the Downing Street incident on 19 September when Mr Mitchell was alleged to have called police officers ‘f****** plebs’.”
In a statement, Mr Mitchell said: “It is a matter of deep concern that the police forces employing these officers have concluded that their conduct has not brought the police service into disrepute. Most people will disagree.
“It is a decision which will undermine confidence in the ability of the police to investigate misconduct when the reputation of the police service as a whole is at stake.
“My family and I have waited nearly a year for these police officers to be held to account and for an apology from the police forces involved. It seems we have waited in vain.”
A transcript of the meeting in Sutton Coldfield shows that Mr Mitchell apologised for swearing at the officers in Downing Street, but denied using the word “plebs”.
In comments made after the meeting, Ken MacKaill claimed the former Tory chief whip would not provide an account of the incident.
West Mercia police found that, although the Police Federation contributed to the pressure on Mr Mitchell and his decision to resign, none of the officers had a case to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct.
A statement from Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands police said the IPCC chose not to exercise powers that would have allowed it to order the three forces to hold misconduct proceedings
It said: “Despite a thorough investigation under the supervision of the IPCC, we do not believe that there is sufficient evidence to support the view that the officers concerned should face misconduct proceedings.
“Our view is that the officers have demonstrated poor judgment in arranging and attending the meeting in the first place. In light of this, our position is that management action is a proportionate response.”
The Crown Prosecution Service is considering whether to bring criminal charges following a Scotland Yard investigation into the “plebgate” affair.
Eight people, including five police officers, have been re-bailed. The five constables are from the Diplomatic Protection Group, which is responsible for guarding politicians and foreign dignitaries, and includes a 46-year-old woman present when the row broke out.
Two of the officers, the woman and a man who is also 46, were arrested over alleged leaks to the media about what happened.