‘Plebgate’: Police officers stand by account of Mitchell meeting
13 minutes ago
Three police officers involved in a dispute with Andrew Mitchell about the “plebgate” affair say they do not owe an apology to the former chief whip.
They told MPs that they stood by their “accurate” account of a meeting with Mr Mitchell in October 2012.
Mr Mitchell, who resigned over the row, has challenged the officers’ claim that he was not open about the incident.
But Chris Jones, from West Midlands Police, said he was “not convinced we have done anything wrong”.
Sgt Jones, Insp Ken MacKaill, of West Mercia Police and Det Sgt Stuart Hinton, of Warwickshire Police are appearing before the Commons Home Affairs Select Commitee.
The meeting took place weeks after an altercation at the gates of Downing Street where Mr Mitchell was accused of swearing at police and calling them “plebs” – allegations that he has always denied.
In a briefing after the meeting, the officers – all members of the Police Federation – told journalists that Mr Mitchell had refused to elaborate on what he did or did not say during the original incident.
‘Room for doubt’
Mr Mitchell insists a transcript of the meeting, which he secretly recorded, shows that he apologised for swearing and expressly denied that he used the word “pleb”.
Asked by Labour MP Keith Vaz whether he owed an apology to Mr Mitchell, Mr MacKaill said no and insisted he stood by “what I believe was an accurate account of the meeting”.
He said he believed he had been right to call for Mr Mitchell to resign – believing at the time that his alleged behaviour in Downing Street represented a “casual dismissal of police integrity”.
Although serious questions have since been raised about the credibility of police reports about Mr Mitchell’s conduct, Mr MacKaill said he had “no way of knowing that at the time”.
Mr Hinton said the three had shown “poor judgement” in speaking to the media immediately after the meeting without time for reflection about what had been discussed.
He said he was prepared to apologise to colleagues, the public and “anyone else involved” if the three “may have said things which could be interpreted as being misleading”.
But he added: “We certainly did not intend to do that and we certainly did not lie intentionally.”
And he said he believed there was “no conspiracy to unseat” Mr Mitchell.
But Conservative MP Michael Ellis accused the officers of “disgraceful conduct”, saying they had “spun a yarn to the press to get someone out of high office”.
Earlier, Chief Inspector Jerry Reakes-Williams, who led an inquiry into the October 2012 meeting and whether the officers had tried to discredit Mr Mitchell, said he believed the trio should face disciplinary action.
‘Room for doubt’
Chief Inspector Jerry Reakes-Williams: “I do not consider, on the balance of probabilities, that the officers have lied.”
Mr Reakes-Williams, head of professional standards at Warwickshire and West Mercia Police, said the officers’ comments to the media “may have had the impact of misleading the public about what happened” as they had given the impression that Mr Mitchell had not sought to explain what happened outside Downing Street.
However, he said he did not believe there had been “a deliberate intention to mislead” as there was “some room for doubt and interpretation” about whether Mr Mitchell had given an “absolutely full account” of what took place.
He said he believed the officers should face misconduct charges but not the more serious charge of gross misconduct which, if proven, would result in potential dismissal.
West Mercia Police ultimately concluded that there was no case to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct, a decision which the Independent Police Complaints Commission said it disagreed with.
Ken Mackaill speaking after his meeting with Andrew Mitchell: “He has no option but to resign”
At the time of the October 2012 meeting, the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, was involved in a dispute with the government over changes to police pay and employment conditions.
Giving evidence to MPs, the deputy chair of the IPCC Deborah Glass said the transcript and recording indicated Mr Mitchell had “answered the questions he was asked” during the meeting.
The police investigation had been “thorough and sound” but she believed its conclusions were wrong.
“The evidence and conclusions were so at odds that I thought I had to put that on the public record,” she said.
The officers have since said they regret giving the statement, but Mr Mitchell’s allies have dubbed this a “regretful non-apology” and called for root-and-branch changes to increase police accountability.
Asked whether he believed the apology should be the end of the matter, former policing minister Nick Herbert said: “No, I don’t think it is enough.”
The Conservative MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The wording of the IPCC report, let’s just remind ourselves, was incredibly strong.
“They suggest that the police officers gave a false account, that there was a deliberate attempt to discredit Andrew Mitchell, that their motives seem plain: they were pursuing a political agenda.
“Now when the independent body says this, it is surely right that action is taken and it is very unsatisfactory that we have a situation where the leadership of the police force appears to disagree and take no action in spite of the view of the independent body that was set up to deal with complaints.”
Eight people, including five police officers, have been arrested and bailed over the original altercation at the security gates to Downing Street amid claims that details of the incident were falsified.
The Crown Prosecution Service is currently considering charges.