As published in Yorkshire post:
After Plebgate, a chance to challenge police attitudes
The call by David Davis, the former Shadow Home Secretary, for a Royal Commission on Policing has added a powerful voice to a growing body of high profile police critics who have emerged in the wake of the Plebgate scandal.
The Haltemprice and Howden MP has been a long-standing critic of governmental encroachments upon people’s civil liberties and his entrance into the parliamentary storm over the abuse of police powers is telling.
While the political storm that surrounded Plebgate and the now discredited police accusations made against Andrew Mitchell were very much a Westminster village affair, the story has unravelled into a much broader and sustained questioning of police officer integrity and a “crisis of ethics” at all levels of the police service.
Most importantly, the story has shifted from being about a spat between a police officer and politician to a debate on the values and trustworthiness of police officers in general.
Davis’s description of a culture of “clumsy cover-ups” also acknowledges the damage that has been inflicted by similar cases.
The gross misconduct charge against North Yorkshire chief Grahame Maxwell – and Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) involvements with South Yorkshire’s Chief Constable David Crompton and former West Yorkshire chief Norman Bettison – all feed into this “crisis of ethics” and lack of public trust.
It is clear that the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints Commission in 2004 has failed to address the concerns about public confidence in the police that led to its establishment in the first place.
The IPCC has failed to capture the public’s support as an independent body that polices the police, while a multitude of reform packages have had insufficient impact on the dark corners of police culture that are built into the social imagination through television series such as Yorkshire author David Peace’s Red Riding trilogy.
This continued questioning of police legitimacy – the public’s confidence in the ability of the police to carry out their role in a fair, equitable and efficient manner – hurts the police service.
Improving public confidence in the police has been a policy priority for the past decade. Yet every positive development takes place with the spectre of high profile cases of police misconduct and, at the extreme, corruption, looming over their shoulder.
Despite all of this, the police retain substantial public support although, interestingly, this support dwindles whenever a person comes into contact with the police.
While the experience of being a victim, offender or witness to a crime undoubtedly contributes to this reduction, there remains a concern about police officer communication with the public – the moment at which police culture becomes visible.
The College of Policing’s code of ethics represents the latest attempt to address this issue. The code sets national standards for the honesty and integrity of police officers and seeks to build a culture of positive engagement with the public.
Contrary to public belief, the majority of police time is spent dealing with non-criminal issues, yet police culture embodies a crime-fighting ethos.
This paradoxical situation generates a frustration amongst police officers who are frequently drawn into the non-criminal disputes that alarm public concern. It is parking, litter and neighbourhood disputes that most concern the public while it is violent and property offences that police culture interprets as real police work.
These inconsistent and fractured perspectives on policing help explain why there is an unwillingness to address some of the most fundamental questions about the role and purpose of the police service in a democratic society.
Are the police primarily law enforcers, or peacekeepers focused on crime prevention? At the moment the police are tasked with both.
A gap subsequently appears between community policing talk, the training officers receive, and the experience of street level community policing for the public.
Recent attempts to reform police training and leadership programmes failed to address this asymmetry and were subsumed by concerns about police cuts.
Given this uncertain and uneven political and policing landscape, it is unsurprising that discussions about what the police do and how they behave take on such a contradictory form.
Small policy changes just tweak the detail.
It is why David Davis is right to say that a Royal Commission on Policing is now required to understand exactly what the values and practice of democratic policing in 2013 should look like.
As published in Yorkshire posts:
Police should wear cameras and microphones says Yorkshire MP
Wholesale reform of the police is required following revelations of smears and cover-ups in scandals such as the Hillsborough disaster and the Plebgate’ affair, a senior Yorkshire politician has urged.
David Davis, the Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden and a former Shadow Home Secretary, said the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) should be beefed up to become a British “Untouchables”, able to carry out investigations without obstruction.
Mr Davis, a close ally of former chief whip Andrew Mitchell – who resigned in the wake of a row with police at the gates of Downing Street – also called for officers to be forced to wear cameras and microphones when on duty to record their actions as part of an effort to address a “decline in public trust”.
“What we need is a tougher regulator,” Mr Davis said. “The Government should respond by giving the IPCC the powers and resources to outrank and overrule every chief of police in the land – to become a British Untouchables’. Never again should a police force be able to delay or frustrate an IPCC investigation.”
But Mr Davis said identifying problems after the event was not enough, and the wider “crisis of ethics” needed to be addressed by a Royal Commission. He claimed the Mitchell case was the “latest in a long list of police investigations set up to seek the truth but conducted as clumsy cover-ups”.
He highlighted the recent revelations about the Hillsborough disaster in South Yorkshire, in which police errors contributed to the deaths of 96 football fans in April 1989. Police later tried to cover-up their mistakes and pin the blame on those who died.
“Britain needs root-and-branch reform of policing culture, a feat beyond the powers of even a powerful independent regulator,” Mr Davis said. “The Government should appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the conduct of the police.”
Former Prime Minister Sir John Major apologised on Tuesday for his Government’s failure to act over Hillsborough in the 1990s, suggesting he was too quick to believe accounts of senior officers.
“We had pretty strong police views that there was no need for a report at the time,” he said. “Nowadays I’m not sure that assurance would ring as strongly as it did in the 1990s.”
Responding to Mr Davis yesterday, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said he was “open-minded” about the establishment of a Royal Commission into police standards.
“If it’s about the Plebgate issue, and also if you think about Hillsborough, you’ll need a cool, clear reflection at the end of this issue to see whether or not that’s needed,” he said.
Mr Davis’ intervention came as three officers accused of trying to discredit Mr Mitchell appeared before MPs in Parliament and remained defiant despite their chief constables issuing public apologies and the renewed threat of disciplinary action.
Police Federation representatives Inspector Ken MacKaill, Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton and Sergeant Chris Jones would apologise only for their haste in speaking to the media straight after the meeting in October last year when they told journalists Mr Mitchell had refused to tell them exactly what he said during a foul-mouthed confrontation with officers in Downing Street the previous month.
The three were later accused of giving a misleading account of the 45-minute meeting, which was recorded by the politician.
Mr Hinton told the Home Affairs Select Committee they accepted they had shown “poor judgment” but added: “We certainly didn’t lie intentionally.” Mr Jones said he did not believe they had done any-thing wrong, while Mr MacKaill stood by their initial account.
Chief Inspector Jerry Reakes-Williams, who conducted the internal investigation, told MPs he still believes the officers have a case to answer for “misconduct”.
Committee chairman Keith Vaz told the three officers that giving inaccurate evidence would amount to a contempt of Parliament, adding: “We have found your evidence most unsatisfactory.”
As published in the Gazette Live:
Royal commission police probe call
A senior Tory has called for a royal commission into police culture in the wake of the Plebgate row, claiming there was a “crisis of ethics” within the service.
David Davis, a former shadow home secretary, said the Independent Police Complaints Commission should be beefed up to become a British “Untouchables”, able to carry out investigations without obstruction.
Mr Davis, a close ally of former chief whip Andrew Mitchell who resigned in the wake of a row with police at the gates of Downing Street, also called for officers to be forced to wear cameras and microphones on duty to record their actions as part of an effort to address a “decline in public trust”.
Plebgate officers to give evidence
Three police officers caught up in the so-called Plebgate row are to be grilled by MPs today as part of a bumper evidence session on the continuing affair.
Police Federation representatives Inspector Ken MacKaill, Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton and Sergeant Chris Jones were accused of trying to discredit former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell after meeting him in October last year.
The officers, who were representing the forces of West Mercia, Warwickshire and West Midlands, were spared misconduct proceedings by an internal investigation.
As published in The Times:
Officers must wear cameras to regain the public’s trust
Police officers should wear cameras and microphones to record all contact with the public amid a “crisis of ethics”, a senior Tory politician says today.
David Davis, the former Shadow Home Secretary, argues in The Times that the Plebgate affair is the latest example in decades of “clumsy cover-ups” by the police, stretching from the Birmingham Six miscarriage of justice, to the Hillsborough tragedy and the deaths of Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson.
In the most scathing critique of police culture delivered from the Tory benches, Mr Davis says that the police complaints watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, has to become tougher, “a British Untouchables”, and the time has come for a fundamental change in police conduct and culture.
Body-worn camera technology, which is already being tested by some forces, could help to drive that change by making officers think about how they conduct themselves in public.
“Britain needs root-and-branch reform of policing culture, a feat beyond the powers of even a powerful independent regulator,” Mr Davis says. “The Government should appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the conduct of the police. The lessons about what behaviour is expected from a British police officer should be instilled from Day 1.”
His call comes as MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee prepare to question three chief constables, the leaders of the IPCC and Police Federation officials about Plebgate.
Behind-the-scenes manoeuvring was continuing last night with David Shaw, Chief Constable of West Mercia Police, considering reopening the decision process which last week saw three officers escape misconduct proceedings over an alleged attempt to discredit Andrew Mitchell, the former Tory Chief Whip.
The move raised the prospect that the officers could yet face a tribunal over their behaviour towards Mr Mitchell a year ago.
The dispute over whether or not Mr Mitchell used the word “pleb” during a 45-second confrontation with Downing Street police, and the subsequent campaign by sections of the Police Federation to drive him from office, have created a national debate over public confidence in the police.
Today’s hearings will not not draw the heat from the argument. There will be further committee sessions next week when the national Police Federation leadership will be questioned by MPs about their relationship with Jon Gaunt, the communications adviser, and their campaign against government policing policy.
Keith Vaz, the committee chairman, said that MPs would produce a report on an issue that “has huge implications for trust in the police”.
The Crown Prosecution Service is also expected to announce its decision soon on whether any Metropolitan Police officers will be charged over the leak to the media of the police log on the Downing Street incident, the falsification of evidence and any alleged conspiracy against Mr Mitchell.
Mr Davis’s proposal for police to wear body cameras is already in the pipeline, with the newly established College of Policing starting a trial with up to five forces to see if their use reduces both the force used by officers and the number of complaints about police behaviour.
One supplier said that hundreds of body-worn cameras were already in use on a trial basis across the UK. Cameras can be worn on the body, attached to special spectacles or fitted on Taser stun guns to document incidents.
The college has been studying an experiment in California where the use of cameras in the city of Rialto led to an 88 per cent fall in complaints and a reported 60 per cent fall in the use of force during 12 months. It is also drawing up a code of ethics.
Alex Marshall, the college’s chief executive, said: “A small number of forces are already using body-worn video to help in prosecutions where the victim or witness may be vulnerable. We see these trials as also being beneficial in reducing police use of force and public complaints against police.”
At a cost of about £300 each, the bill for fitting out the 130,000 officers in England and Wales with cameras would be £39 million and would raise questions of privacy and surveillance.
The Government is unlikely to welcome Mr Davis’s call for a Royal Commission, an idea also favoured by the Police Federation.
As published in the Daily Telegraph:
Microphones for police would avoid another Plebgate row, says MP
Police officers should be forced to wear microphones and cameras to avoid another “Plebgate” row, David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, has said.
The MP backed Andrew Mitchell over the row, which has led to three police officers apologising to the former chief whip for their “poor judgment” after they were accused of misrepresenting him following a meeting about the incident.
Mr Davis said the row and the subsequent failed inquiry had left him with little confidence in the police to fully investigate themselves.
Writing in The Times, Mr Davis said: “West Mercia Police’s whitewashed inquiry into the conduct of three Police Federation officials was a disgrace.”
Insp Ken MacKaill, Det Sgt Stuart Hinton and Sgt Chris Jones, of the Police Federation, were accused of misrepresenting Mr Mitchell following a meeting in his constituency last October where he outlined his side of the row.
Mr Mitchell had agreed to meet them in the wake of the “Plebgate” affair, where he was accused of branding members of Downing Street’s diplomatic protection group, “plebs” and “morons” when they refused to open the main gates to allow him to cycle through.
Mr Mitchell admitted swearing but denied using the phrase “plebs”. He explained his side of the story to the Police Federation officers at the meeting.
They afterwards claimed he had refused to give an account of what happened. It was not until Mr Mitchell produced a tape of the conversation that an investigation was launched.
An inquiry by West Mercia Police concluded they should face no further action, but a damning report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission said there were issues with honesty and recommended disciplinary proceedings. Their chief constables will appear before the home affairs select committee today to answer questions about the matter.
Mr Davis suggests a “root and branch reform” of policing is needed, which he says should include giving the IPCC tougher powers to overrule police chiefs, as well as a Royal Commission to investigate the conduct of officers, which should include new recruits as well as those in senior positions.
He also suggested using technology by making police officers wear a camera and microphone while on duty.
Mr Davis added: “The decline in public trust in the police is a serious threat to the ability of the vast majority of decent officers to do the job they signed up for, catching villains and protecting the public. A full scale Royal Commission and then root and branch reform is the minimum necessary to give those officers back the trust, confidence and power to do the job that society demands.”
The MP claimed “Plebgate” was one of a series of cover-ups which included the investigations into the Hillsborough disaster and the deaths of Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson.
“The consequence not just of the Andrew Mitchell affair but of the dozens of misdemeanours stretching back decades is that the public no longer trust the police to investigate themselves,” he added.
‘The decline in public trust is a threat to the ability of the vast majority of decent officers to do the job they signed up for’
As published in The Guardian:
Plebgate: David Davis calls for royal commission into police ethics
Tory calls for IPCC to become ‘British Untouchables’ and says police should wear microphones to address decline in trust.
A senior Conservative and close ally of the former chief whip Andrew Mitchell has called for a royal commission to investigate the “crisis of ethics” in the police, as three chief constables prepare for questioning by a committee of MPs over issues raised by the Plebgate affair.
David Davis said police should wear microphones and cameras to record their actions to address a decline in public trust – an idea that has won the support of Nick Herbert, a former policing minister, who said the idea was “worth piloting” .
Davis, a former Conservative leadership candidate, also said the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) should be given a bigger status to become a “British Untouchables” – an elite squad to weed out corruption.
Mitchell was forced to resign as chief whip last year after he was accused of calling officers “fucking plebs” at the gates of Downing Street, but he has always claimed to have been “stitched up” by police.
Several officers have been arrested on suspicion of misconduct.
The suggestion of giving greater monitoring powers to the police came as senior officers prepared to give evidence to the home affairs committee about a second aspect of the Mitchell case – a meeting with Police Federation representatives days after the original row.
Three chief constables from West Mercia, Warkwickshire and and the West Midlands are under pressure to explain why they have not disciplined officers from their forces accused of misrepresenting this meeting. The three more junior officers, all representatives of the Police Federation, will also appear before MPs to explain why they said Mitchell had refused to say what happened when a recording contradicted their account.
Writing in the Times, Davis said giving police recording devices could help those who are wrongly accused.
“The police put millions of innocent people under surveillance in order to catch a tiny minority of wrongdoers,” he said. “Perhaps now it is time to make officers wear a camera and microphone while on duty.
“When they tried this in California, use of force by police officers dropped by two-thirds in a year. This technology could also help to defend police officers who have vexatious claims made against them.”
The senior MP said the UK needed a much tougher regulator to address a “crisis of ethics” in the force, which could overrule police chiefs if necessary.
“Earlier this year a parliamentary inquiry concluded that the Independent Police Complaints Commission ‘has neither the powers nor the resources that it needs to get to the truth when the integrity of the police is in doubt’,” Davis said.
“The government should respond by giving the IPCC the powers and resources to outrank and overrule every chief of police in the land – to become a British ‘Untouchables’. Never again should a police force be able to delay or frustrate an IPCC investigation.”
He said the Mitchell case was the “latest in a long list of police investigations set up to seek the truth but conducted as clumsy coverups”.
Herbert, the former policing minister, said the suggestion of cameras and recording devices was worth trialling.
“I think it’s worth piloting, but of course there will be arguments either way, and the news that those who rail against the surveillance society and so on should now be urging a wider surveillance, although you can of course argue that this is a case of the citizens actually keeping an eye on state and the exercise of the state power,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Herbert said the three chief constables had a lot of explaining to do about why they have not disciplined the officers and called for them to rethink their decision.