As published in the Financial Times:
Mitchell criticises CPS over ‘plebgate’
Andrew Mitchell, the former cabinet minister, has made damning criticisms of public prosecutors and questioned the integrity of the Metropolitan Police following news that only one officer is to be charged over the long-running “plebgate” row .
The original dispute, which occurred in September 2012, was prompted by Mr Mitchell trying to cycle through the main gate of Downing Street and resulted in his resignation as Conservative chief whip. Police officers suggested that the MP had called them “plebs” during the row – an account that was later disputed and which Mr Mitchell firmly denies.
The Crown Prosecution Service confirmed yesterday that one serving police officer, PC Keith Wallis, would be charged with misconduct in public office. Separately the police watchdog said five officers, including Mr Wallis, would face gross misconduct proceedings.
But in a press conference, Mr Mitchell accused the police and CPS of failing to interrogate the evidence. He said the officers who attributed “toxic phrases” to him had been motivated by opposition to the government’s police reforms. The former chief whip is taking libel action against The Sun newspaper, which published the initial story.
He said he was willing to state his version of events under oath, adding that it was his “intention to ensure that PC Toby Rowland has similarly to swear his account”. Mr Rowland said he stood by his account and would be prepared to give evidence under oath.
Mr Mitchell was supported at the press conference by Tory backbenchers, including former shadow home secretary David Davis
Earlier in the day Bernard Hogan-Howe, Met commissioner, described the probe as a “ruthless search for the truth” and said any officers who had acted without impartiality or integrity would have to answer for their actions.
Mr Wallis is due to appear at Westminster magistrates’ court on December 16.
As published in The Independent:
Spokes, lies and videotape;
The policeman who says Andrew Mitchell called him a pleb will not face criminal charges. The former minister is furious and presented CCTV evidence in support of his case. So who’s telling the truth? ‘If the police can do this to me, they can do it to anyone’
The former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell accused the police last night of systemic dishonesty over the Plebgate affair and demanded a Downing Street protection officer face him in court to repeat his “toxic” lies under oath.
Mr Mitchell condemned the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service for what he said had been a failure thoroughly to investigate the officer, who first accused him of using the word “pleb” in an altercation outside Downing Street last year.
And he claimed that he had been shocked by the “sheer number” of people who had contacted him making similar accusations of police misconduct of which he feared “many” were true.
“If the police can do this in such a casual way in one of the safest areas in Britain and get away with it, then they can do it to anyone, anywhere and at any time,” he said.
Mr Mitchell was reacting to a decision by the CPS and the Independent Police Complaints Commission not to take either criminal or disciplinary action against PC Toby Rowland – the officer at the heart of the controversy.
PC Rowland alleged Mr Mitchell called the police “fucking plebs” who should learn their “fucking place” when diplomatic protection officers refused to let him cycle through the main gates of Downing Street.
When PC Rowland’s log of the incident was leaked to the media it led eventually to Mr Mitchell’s forced resignation as the Government’s Chief Whip. However, three months later CCTV footage emerged casting doubt over the police evidence and a criminal investigation was launched. Mr Mitchell said it was extraordinary the investigation had “meandered” for over a year but had at no stage interviewed PC Rowland under criminal caution or arrested him.
“The important issue is who invented the three lying phrases about plebs and people knowing their place,” he said. “These three phrases attributed to me are completely untrue; they were made up and disseminated by a police officer.”
Earlier in the day the CPS announced that one Downing Street Protection Group officer, PC Keith Wallis, would face charges for misconduct in public office over allegations that he had written to his MP and falsely claimed that he witnessed the incident.
Four other officers will face gross misconduct proceedings – two for their claimed involvement in leaking the story to The Sun and two for allegedly providing false evidence to the police investigation.
All could potentially lose their jobs. Three others will also face less severe internal disciplinary action.
However, the CPS said it had not seen any evidence to justify claims that PC Rowland had lied in his account on the police log.
“Much of the press reporting to date has assumed that the CCTV recordings show that the gate officer lied about the words used during the incident,” said the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders.
“The CCTV footage that has been aired publicly was edited and did not show the full picture. We have been supplied with previously unseen and unedited footage of the incident from five different cameras. The CCTV footage does not determine the issue completely as it could be consistent with either the accounts of the officer on the gate or Mr Mitchell. It is clear from the footage that there was sufficient time for the words to have been said either as described by the gate officer or as described by Mr Mitchell, and this has been confirmed by an expert.”
Ms Saunders added that the new footage also appeared to back up claims made by PC Rowland that there were witnesses to the incident.
“[The footage] does show that there are a small number of members of the public present immediately in front of the gate at the relevant time, but what cannot be seen is how many people were off-camera but in the vicinity, at least some of whom then quickly came into view.
“This is consistent with the officer’s account that several members of the public were present. No officer ever mentioned ‘crowds’ being present.”
But Mr Mitchell’s lawyer Stephen Parkinson, who was given access to the new unseen footage, disputed the CPS’s interpretation of the film.
“The film simply does not back up PC Rowland’s assertion that there were several members of the public witnessing the scene who ‘looked visibly shocked’ at the foul language,” he said.
“This is important because once you conclude that PC Rowland embellished his account how is it possible to believe the rest?”
Michael Crick, the Channel 4 News journalist who originally aired the footage, also reacted angrily to the CPS statement.
“C4 did not edit CCTV footage to change or alter sequence of events. Our three CCTV streams were image-matched frame-by-frame to confirm veracity,” he wrote on Twitter.
He added: “C4 News has tonight submitted FOI [Freedom of Information] request to CPS to provide ‘any evidence’ to justify their claim the Plebgate CCTV we showed was ‘edited’.” Mr Mitchell’s close political ally David Davis claimed that PC Rowland would have had to have said 40 words in five seconds if the officer’s account was to be believed.
He told journalists: “According to Rowland, 40 words were spoken, excluding the last response from Mitchell, in that last five seconds.
“Most people speak at two to three words per second. No one speaks at eight words per second.”
Mr Mitchell, who is suing The Sun for defamation, said he expected PC Rowland to come to court and “swear to his account” under oath.
But the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, insisted the police investigation had been a “ruthless search for the truth”. “I believe that public trust and confidence in the integrity of the police is fundamental to us providing an effective service for the public,” he said.
“I expect my officers to serve the public without fear or favour.”
But Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, admitted the case could still damage the police.
“I think any event of such significance and such publicity has the potential to damage police public relations,” he said.
“I think what’s important is when they are discovered they are faced up to and dealt with in a transparent and open way.”
In a statement, PC Rowland said: “I stand by my account of events in Downing Street on 19 September 2012. This has now been thoroughly investigated and the CPS has confirmed there is insufficient evidence to take any criminal proceedings against me.
“In addition, neither am I subject to any disciplinary proceedings. I confirm that I am prepared to give evidence under oath if required.”
At 7.36pm, Andrew Mitchell (red) is challenged by police officers who refuse to let him ride his bike through Downing Street’s main gate. Footage shows PC Toby Rowland (blue) walking over to join the exchange six seconds after it began.
Mr Mitchell agrees to walk his bike through a side gate, which is opened by PC Rowland. Mr Mitchell claims their conversation at this point lasted no more than five seconds, insufficient time for the 40-word exchange (including the word “pleb”) described by the police officer.
The log filed by PC Rowland said that ‘several members of the public’ were present and ‘visibly shocked’ by Mr Mitchell’s words. One male tourist (orange) and two other women (yellow) can be seen within a few yards of the gate. Mr Mitchell’s camp claim the footage indicates that they were not aware of the exchange.
As published in The Independent:
The former Tank Regiment officer takes aim and fires;
If, a few years ago, you had wanted to identify a future figurehead for all those fitted up by the police in the past, you could hardly have picked an more unlikely candidate than Andrew Mitchell – old Rugbeian, former Conservative Cabinet minister, Royal Tank Regiment officer and Lazards banker.
But that’s what made yesterday’s press conference so electric. Sitting on a platform with his wife, his lawyer and his best friend in politics, David Davis – himself once a credible candidate to lead his party – Mr Mitchell insisted that while personally confident of eventual justice, he was speaking “on behalf of all those who may not have been able to fight back against police misconduct and have not had the support that I have had”.
The man who freely admits that he told officers who had refused to open the main gates of Downing Street to him and his bicycle: “I thought you guys were supposed to fucking help us” (“for which I subsequently apologised”) was pretty direct. The “incendiary fact” was that “armed police officers guarding officials in Downing Street have stitched up one of those they were supposed to be protecting.”
Rarely have words been less minced by a politician. He is prepared to give his version on oath in open court: “our intention”, he said, is to get PC Toby Rowland – the man who is supposed to have heard him call an officer a “pleb” – to do the same.
At first sight the blurry images in the CCTV film of the 49 seconds Mr Mitchell took to get through the gate only confuse matters. Was this the “Plebgate ” equivalent of the Zapruder film and the grassy knoll – detonating half a century of unprovable speculation?
But as Mr Davis explained the images, there seemed at least to be a case to answer. Where were the several passers-by supposed to have witnessed the altercation? And how did he manage to say so much in such a short space of time?
On reflection perhaps only someone with Mr Mitchell’s credentials would have been prepared to confront the police and the CPS as he did yesterday.
He insisted he was speaking in “deep sorrow not in anger”. But his anger at the CPS’s decision not only not to arrest PC Rowland, but not to interview him under caution, was palpable. The police will have learned at least one thing from yesterday’s press conference – Andrew Mitchell is not, in the well-worn phrase, going quietly.
As published in the Belfast Telegraph:
Action against ‘Plebgate’ police
A police officer is facing a criminal charge and he and four colleagues could lose their jobs over the Plebgate row.
Pc Keith Wallis is accused of misconduct in public office over claims he sent an email to the deputy chief whip, John Randall, who was his MP, wrongly claiming that he had seen what happened in Downing Street last year.
A row erupted after then-chief whip Andrew Mitchell became involved in a heated confrontation with an officer after he was refused permission to cycle through the main gate. He admitted swearing but denied the officer’s claim that he had used the word pleb.
Today watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission said that Wallis and four other colleagues will face gross misconduct proceedings over the row, meaning they could face the sack.
Mr Mitchell staged a fightback after the Downing Street incident, alleging that he was victim to attempts to “toxify” his career.
However today prosecutors said that there was no evidence of a criminal conspiracy against him, and no conclusive proof that either his account or the officer’s account of what was said was correct.
The Crown Prosecution Service said that there was insufficient evidence to bring any charges against the officer at the gate, or a fellow constable who leaked an email giving his account of what had happened.
Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said: “We have considered all of the evidence in this case, including previously unseen, unedited CCTV footage from Downing Street, not referred to by the media.
“Taking it all into account, including the accounts of the officer at the gate of Downing Street and that of Andrew Mitchell MP before, during and after the incident, we have found that there is insufficient evidence to show that the officer at the gate lied in his account. The CPS has also found that there is insufficient evidence to show that Mr Mitchell was the victim of a conspiracy of misinformation.”
Lawyers found that a jury would be likely to decide that leaking the email was in the public interest.
Ms Saunders said: “This type of conduct raises issues in relation to the right to freedom of expression, including the right to freely impart and receive information, and these are important rights enshrined in our law.
“In all the circumstances of this case, we have concluded that a jury is likely to decide that it was in the public interest for the events at the gate to be made public and it therefore follows that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute any suspect in relation to this leak.”
She said that previously unseen CCTV evidence and a string of emails and other messages between police and members of the public had been scrutinised as part of the investigation, and information relating to 14 people – 10 police officers, three members of the public and a journalist – was considered.
Eight people, including five police constables and three members of the public, were arrested in the wake of the affair and released on police bail until this week.
Ms Saunders highlighted the conflicting accounts of what Mr Mitchell said. The gate officer claims he used the words: “You should know your f****** place, you don’t run this f****** government, you’re f****** plebs.”
However Mr Mitchell claimed he said: “I thought you guys were supposed to f******help us”.
Ms Saunders said: “We have been supplied with previously unseen and unedited footage of the incident from five different cameras. The CCTV footage does not determine the issue completely as it could be consistent with either the accounts of the officer on the gate or Mr Mitchell.
“It is clear from the footage that there was sufficient time for the words to have been said either as described by the gate officer or as described by Mr Mitchell, and this has been confirmed by an expert. The fact that an expert has confirmed what is possible does not of itself determine the issue.
“Our determination in relation to the incident also involved careful consideration of evidence concerning conduct and communications by officers and Mr Mitchell both before and after the incident, including the fact that Mr Mitchell’s account has varied since the incident.”
There was “information but no admissible evidence” suggesting that an officer’s partner had contacted the media about the row, adding the word “morons” to the account, but a charge of misconduct in public office cannot be brought because they are a member of the public, the CPS said.
Another unconnected member of the public sent an email to the chairman of the Conservative Party claiming to have witnessed and filmed the incident, and alleging that the word “pleb” was not used, but again prosecutors cannot bring a charge of misconduct in public office.
Charges of perverting the course of justice were also considered against two officers for statements they gave to the investigation, but there was insufficient evidence for a conviction.
In the immediate aftermath of the Downing Street row, the Daily Telegraph published a police log of the incident, which claimed Mr Mitchell called officers ”plebs” and swore at them repeatedly for making him walk through a side gate. He insisted he did not use the words attributed to him.
A Channel 4 investigation appeared to cast doubt on the officers’ account when it revealed CCTV footage which showed there was not a large group of tourists outside the main gate at the time as had originally been claimed.
However today the CPS said the programme “showed edited footage that was less than clear in a number of regards”.
A spokesman for the Police Federation said: “We note the charge announced today by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and await the outcome of the matter once the full criminal justice process has been completed.
“We welcome the decision by the CPS that there was insufficient evidence to show that the officer at the gate lied in his account and that there was insufficient evidence to show that Mr Mitchell was the victim of a conspiracy of misinformation.
“We have always been concerned by the selected information that has been put into the public domain and it is noteworthy that the CPS came to its conclusions after reviewing all the evidence, including unedited CCTV footage from Downing Street.”
Wallis is due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on December 16.
Scotland Yard said that, as well as the five officers facing gross misconduct charges, who will face a hearing over claims of discreditable conduct, honesty and integrity, and/or improper disclosure of information, another three will also face internal action.
Two will be subject to “local misconduct” proceedings for allegedly giving inaccurate statements or making inappropriate comments, while another has been recommended for management action for inappropriate comments.
Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, said: “This investigation has been a ruthless search for the truth as at the heart of this are extremely damaging allegations that officers have lied and falsified statements against a Cabinet Minister.
“I believe that public trust and confidence in the integrity of the police is fundamental to us providing an effective service for the public. I expect my officers to serve the public without fear or favour. If these officers have broken the law or acted without impartiality or integrity then they must answer for that, be it in a court of law or at gross misconduct hearings.
“At this stage, I must take great care not to say or do anything that prejudices the outcome of those very important hearings.
“As I have previously stated, I asked Deputy Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan to begin a full review of the Diplomatic Protection Group, examining working practices, culture and behaviour in this unit of the Met. It is vital that those we protect have confidence in our determination to protect their security and their confidentiality. This will be completed and an appropriate summary published when legal and misconduct proceedings are complete.”
The IPCC has supervised Scotland Yard’s investigation into Plebgate, called Operation Alice, since December last year.
This covered allegations that police had lied in their log of what happened, leaks to the media, an officer’s claim to have witnessed the incident and any claims of a conspiracy between him and any others.
Deborah Glass, from the IPCC, said “The Metropolitan Police has proposed, and I agree, that there is a case to answer for gross misconduct for that officer and four other officers from the Diplomatic Protection Group. We will take stock of the CPS decision made today and aim to publish further details in due course.”
Senior Conservative David Davis, a friend of Mr Mitchell, said the full CCTV footage supports the MP’s case and will be shown “beginning to end” at a press conference later today.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “There are some sort of extraordinary things in the CPS statement about two other bits of video footage.
“I haven’t seen them but our lawyer has seen them and he says it does not alter the case at all, it hasn’t changed the case at all; indeed, if anything, it sort of supports our case.”
Mr Davis criticised the investigation for costing hundreds of thousands of pounds but reaching an “unsatisfactory” inconclusive outcome.
He said: “To some extent he feels vindicated today that these charges have been brought but, frankly, at the end of the day, we are still pretty dissatisfied with the Metropolitan Police investigating themselves and not very effectively.”
He went on: “The simple truth is Andrew has suffered a gross mis-justice.
“He’s been misrepresented, his job’s been brought to an end, he’s been the subject of almost a lynch mob mentality on the part of a media campaign by the Police Federation and at the end of this five policemen are facing charges of one sort or another.”
Mr Davis said he was “not aware of Andrew being challenged on any part of his account”. He and Mr Mitchell refused to pass on details of a whistleblower to police because the person had given them information on the basis “that they weren’t named”.
“Whistleblowers in the Metropolitan Police do not have a very happy life thereafter,” he added.
As published in The Guardian:
Plebgate row: Mitchell resignation was still necessary, says Cameron aide
David Cameron has not changed his position that Andrew Mitchell’s resignation as chief whip was necessary following the plebgate scandal, the prime minister’s spokesman has suggested.
Downing Street said Cameron’s view of the incident “remains the same”, dampening speculation that Mitchell could get his job back in the next reshuffle.
Mitchell stepped down from his role after he was accused of calling police officers “fucking plebs” outside the gates of Downing Street.
He has admitted swearing in front of officers but always denied using the phrase and the police account of events.
In a letter after his resignation, Cameron said: “I regret that this has become necessary, and am very grateful for all you have done.”
Following the CPS decision that there was insufficient evidence of conspiracy, Cameron’s spokesman said he could not comment on the work of an independent body but gave no indication Mitchell would be reinstated.
“The position is set out in the exchange of letters between Mr Mitchell and the prime minister. That remains the position,” he said.
The Downing Street aide said Cameron “holds in high regard those who work in and around Downing Street”.
David Davis, a senior Tory and friend of Mitchell said he would “not be pleased they haven’t got to the bottom of the whole thing”.
He said he still believes the incident was a “stitch-up” because officers are facing disciplinary charges of gross misconduct and said there is a “very high probability” Mitchell will get his job back.
As published in The Guardian:
Andrew Mitchell’s rebuttal of police plebgate claims: the key points
At a dramatic press conference, the former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell and his MP colleague David Davis attempted to prove that PC Toby Rowland’s account of the altercation between Rowland and Mitchell in September 2012 could not be correct, partly through use of CCTV footage of the incident. Here are the key points:
· Mitchell said he was prepared to state on oath that Rowland’s version of events – in which the policeman claimed Mitchell had called officers “fucking plebs” – was untrue, and he challenged Rowland to tell his story on oath. He said this would happen when his libel action against the Sun over its story on the plebgate affair came to court. He called Rowland’s statements “toxic”, “lies” and “lying phrases”. He repeated his claim that he had in fact said to the police: “I thought you guys were supposed to be f-ing helping us.”
· He said that if the police could make false claims against him in Downing Street, they could do it to “anyone, anywhere, at any time”. Police had “stitched up” someone they were supposed to be protecting, he said. The length of time the police inquiry took, and the result of it, cast doubt on the police’s ability to investigate themselves, he says.
· The incident had been used to destroy his political career and to toxify the Conservative party, Mitchell said. He resigned as chief whip in the wake of the affair.
· Davis said there had not been enough time for the 40 words Rowland claimed hads been spoken to have really been uttered on video footage of the incident he played to the press conference.
· And he claimed Rowland’s claim “several members of the public [were] present, as is the norm”, and had been shocked to hear the incident take place, could not have been true. He showed a still indicating three people were walking past, and two of them were too far away to have heard or witnessed anything.
· Davis also denied the video footage had been edited, as the CPS said, pointing to the timestamps on the clips.
· Mitchell denied CPS claims that he had varied his evidence, saying his lawyer had been told that any differences were “not material”.
· Mitchell denied he had any previous history with Rowland: even now, he said, he would not recognise the police officer if he saw him.
· Mitchell’s lawyer, Stephen Parkinson, said the police had conducted a “poor investigation” that had had damaging consequences for Mitchell and also meant “an opportunity to restore trust to the police has been missed”.
· He said he disagreed with the CPS’s decision not to charge Rowland with misconduct in public office. But he said the police had not given the CPS enough evidence for them to do this.
· He said he had watched a further video that undermined Rowland’s claims, and called for this to be made public.