Three Federation reps have flatly refused to apologise to former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell following a lengthy Home Affairs Select Committee hearing.
Following heated exchanges with MPs, Chairman Keith Vaz said the evidence of Warwickshire Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton, Sgt Chris Jones of West Midlands Police and West Mercia Inspector Ken MacKaill was “most unsatisfactory”.
The three officials had been called before the committee to give their account of a meeting with the former Tory chief whip after an investigation into their account of the event to the media concluded that no disciplinary action should be taken.
During the hearing in Westminster, the three representatives accepted that they had exercised poor judgement in speaking to reporters directly after the meeting. But they stressed that it had not been their intention to mislead anybody.
They also accepted that they should have first discussed exactly what had been said with each other before speaking to media.
After being asked four times whether Mr Mitchell was now owed an apology, which prompted Mr Vaz to tell the officers that the hearing “was not a television game show”, all three declined with Mr Hinton claiming: “I cannot apologise for something I haven’t done.”
The hearing was convened after the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) launched a scathing attack on West Mercia Police, Warwickshire Police and West Midlands Police over their decision not to bring misconduct proceedings against the Fed reps in the wake of the Plebgate controversy last year.
West Mercia, which carried out investigation under the watchdog’s supervision, concluded after consulting the other forces involved that the officers required management advice and should not face misconduct charges. But the IPCC claimed the officers should face formal disciplinary proceedings over whether they had deliberately given a misleading representation of their exchanges with Mr Mitchell to the waiting media.
Despite the Fed reps appearing to clear the air with Mr Mitchell in the meeting – over his alleged previous comments to a Metropolitan Police officer in Downing Street – they called his integrity into question afterwards in front of reporters.
The committee hearing, which lasted four hours, saw the three chief constables from the forces involved as well as IPCC Chair Dame Anne Owers giving evidence.
MPs also heard from investigating officer, Ch Insp Jerry Reakes-Williams, who revealed that he had originally concluded that misconduct action should be taken after examining the evidence in the case. But a team of chief officers from the three forces took an alternative view that formal proceedings were not necessary.
West Mercia Chief Constable David Shaw told MPs that the handling of the affair had been “clumsy” and accepted that the outcome should now be reviewed.
In their evidence, the three Fed representatives highlighted that the local Federation branches had been mounting a campaign against government cuts to policing at the time they met with Mr Mitchell.
This had attracted the attention of senior officials, with the then national Fed Chairman Paul McKeever expressing concerns about its personal nature and the way it was being conducted.
Members questioned the actions of the media advisor used by the three local Fed branches, highlighting that he had tweeted about the meeting with Mr Mitchell and that it had finished at 5:45pm – conveniently in time for the news 15 minutes later.
Mr Hinton said he was prepared to apologise to colleagues, the public and anyone else involved if he and his fellow officers “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.”
In summing up, however, Mr Vaz said that committee members remained concerned – and that they would be calling on the Fed’s media advisor to give evidence in due course.