Police officers who met with former Government Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell at the height of the plebgate scandal misled the media in a bid to discredit the politician.
In a damning report, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said representatives of the Police Federation wanted to discredit Mitchell.
A Sun report of Mitchell’s altercation with police at the gates of Number 10 is the subject of an ongoing libel action. The Sun is using a ‘responsible journalism’ defence.
The Sun claim, that Mitchell called police officers “fucking plebs”, appeared no 20 September – the day after the Downing Street incident. The Daily Telegraph later published a police log in which the use of the term was noted.
Mitchell met Police Federation officials on 12 October to “clear the air” but the resigned a week later.
Deborah Glass, IPCC Deputy Chair said: “The context is extremely important. On that day – the week after the Conservative Party conference at which Federation members were seen wearing ‘PC Pleb’ t-shirts – it was well known, and must have been well known to the officers, that Mr Mitchell was under pressure to resign his post as Government Chief Whip.
“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’.”
An investigation by West Mercia police found that the press briefing following the meeting did increase pressure on Mitchell to resign, but none of the officers had a case to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct.
According to Glass: “In my view, the evidence is such that a panel should determine whether the three officers gave a false account of the meeting in a deliberate attempt to support their MPS colleague and discredit Mr Mitchell, in pursuit of a wider agenda. In my opinion the evidence indicates an issue of honesty and integrity, not merely naïve or poor professional judgment.
“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.”
Glass admitted that in the absence of a complaint from Mitchell the IPCC cannot initiate misconduct proceedings against the three officer.
“But bearing in mind the role of the IPCC in supervising this investigation and the public interest, I believe it is important to put my disagreement on record, and to set out the evidence so that the public can judge for themselves.”