3 Nov 2013

‘Plebgate’ police face new investigation

Officers accused of giving misleading accounts of a meeting with Andrew Mitchell are facing a new watchdog investigation and will also be questioned again by MPs.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it will hold its own investigation into the behaviour of three officers after finding “procedural irregularities” in the way the original inquiry was dealt with.

The officers had previously been told that they would face no further action.

Former chief whip Andrew Mitchell had met with the three Police Federation representatives – Inspector Ken MacKaill, Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton and Sergeant Chris Jones – in a bid to clear the air after an alleged foul-mouthed confrontation with police in Downing Street the previous month.

Also on Sunday, a report from the home affairs select committee found the officers’ account of that meeting to be false, and accused them of lying.

It said the evidence given by the officers to MPs was “misleading, possibly deliberately” and the chairman of the committee, Labour MP Keith Vaz, likened it to “fiction”. As well the new IPCC investigation, Mr Jones and Mr Hinton have been called back to the home affairs select committee on Tuesday “to apologise for misleading it”.

At every point and at every level, instead of being transparent, we have uncovered a process that obstructs the truth. If this can happen to a cabinet minister, what hope is there for anyone else? – Keith Vaz

A few weeks ago, the trio of officers acknowledged the criticism by West Mercia police “relating to our poor judgement in talking to the media following the meeting with Andrew Mitchell, for which we take this opportunity to apologise.”

Mr Mitchell was accused of calling police officers “plebs” when they refused to let him ride his bicycle through the Downing Street gates in September 2012. Mr Mitchell denied using that word, but resigned from his post a month later after mounting pressure.

CCTV footage, obtained by Channel 4 News and Dispatches, cast doubt on the officers account of the Downing Street exchange. An email which claimed to have been written by an eyewitness, also revealed by Channel 4 News, appeared to contradict the CCTV footage.

Read more on the plebgate affair

Mr Vaz welcomed the IPCC investigation and said: “We were appalled by the evidence given by DS Hinton, Sgt Jones and Insp MacKaill. We have recalled them [Hinton and Jones] to correct the record and, if they do not, they will be in prima facie contempt of parliament.

“The narrative of what we have seen could rival any great work of fiction. At every point and at every level, instead of being transparent, we have uncovered a process that obstructs the truth. If this can happen to a cabinet minister, what hope is there for anyone else?”

Chief Inspector Jerry Reakes-Williams, head of professional standards at Warwickshire and West Mercia Police, concluded that the officers had a case to answer for misconduct. But senior officers disagreed.

‘Public interest’

IPCC deputy chairwoman Deborah Glass said: “Evidence given to the home affairs select committee on 23 October revealed a number of procedural irregularities between the production of the draft and final West Mercia reports.

“On 12 August 2013, a final report was provided to the IPCC. It contained a single set of conclusions to the effect that no case to answer for misconduct was made out against any of the three officers under investigation.

“However, it is clear from CI Reakes-Williams’s evidence to the home affairs select committee that this conclusion did not reflect his opinion.”

She added: “The ‘appropriate authorities’ are the final decision-making bodies, and they are entitled to reach a different decision to the conclusions of the investigator. However, this is an entirely separate process. The procedure described above has conflated the two.”

She said the IPCC was launching its own inquiry to avoid damaging public confidence. “I have determined that a change in the mode of investigation is justified as it would be in the public interest to do so, not least because the catalogue of fundamental procedural irregularities is capable of significantly undermining public confidence in the final outcome of the investigation,” she said.