As published in the Gaurdian:
Theresa May rebukes police over reaction to Plebgate
Home secretary calls on chief constable to apologise to Andrew Mitchell and challenges decision not to discipline officers. The plebgate affair escalated on Tuesday when Theresa May challenged a chief constable’s decision not to take disciplinary action against police who allegedly gave misleading accounts of a meeting with Andrew Mitchell last year.
In a boost to the former chief whip, who is fighting claims that he called police officers who were guarding Downing Street “fucking plebs”, the home secretary called on West Mercia’s chief constable to apologise to Mitchell, saying that the conduct of officers at the meeting struck at the issue of trust in the service.
May made the comments after the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) challenged a police account of a meeting between Mitchell and the Police Federation in his Sutton Coldfield constituency on 12 October 2012.
Representatives of West Mercia, West Midlands and Warwickshire police met Mitchell after the federation told him it wanted to “clear the air” after the confrontation when police declined to allow him to wheel his bike through Downing Street’s gates on 19 September 2012.
Mitchell admitted in the meeting, dubbed by one friend “Kafkaesque” and a “brutal” display of police power, of having sworn in the presence of the officers but insisted he did not call them plebs.
Ken MacKaill, the main spokesman for the three officers, who did not speak during the meeting, asked Mitchell to resign after the talks. Mackaill said: “He is continuing to refuse to elaborate on what happened. I think his position is untenable.”
But the IPCC said that a record of the meeting by Mitchell showed that he had used it to outline his central defence – that he had sworn in the presence of the officers but insisted that he had not used the word pleb. In the report Deborah Glass, deputy chair of the IPCC, said of the officers at the Sutton Coldfield meeting: “Their motive seems plain: as the West Mercia investigating officer noted, ‘they were running a successful, high-profile, anti-cuts media campaign and the account that he provided to them did not fit with their agenda’.”
The remarks prompted the home secretary to issue a rare rebuke after the chief constable of West Mercia, David Shaw, concluded that there was no reason to discipline the police. Appearing at the Commons home affairs select committee, May said: “The police need the trust of the public. These sorts of incident will strike at the heart of that issue of trust. For many members of the public, they will actually say, well, here was somebody who was a member of parliament, who had been a Cabinet minister, and yet this has happened for that individual, and what chance is there for a member of the public?”
Asked if the chief constable of West Mercia, the force that ran the investigation into the officers, should apologise to Mitchell, she said: “I think that would be appropriate.”
May added that it was “quite wrong” that the three officers were not to face disciplinary hearings. “If it is indeed the case that warranted police officers behaved in the way Deborah Glass has described, that’s not acceptable at all.”Keith Vaz, chairman of the select committee, announced that he would summon Shaw, the Police Federation chairman, Steve Williams, and Glass.
Glass had directly challenged the West Mercia chief constable when she wrote: “I disagree with the conclusions of the investigating officer and the opinion of the appropriate authorities that there is no case to answer. 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 and the surrounding circumstances do give an indication of an issue of honesty and integrity and/or discreditable conduct, not merely naïve or poor professional judgment.”
Mitchell, who has been waiting more than a year for the outcome of the investigations into police officers over claims that they leaked information and conspired against him, said: “It is a matter of deep concern that the police forces employing these officers have concluded that their conduct has not brought the police service into disrepute. Most people will disagree.
“It is a decision which will undermine confidence in the ability of the police to investigate misconduct when the reputation of the police service as a whole is at stake.
“My family and I have waited nearly a year for these police officers to be held to account and for an apology from the police forces involved. It seems we have waited in vain.”
The Police Federation accused the IPCC of acting as judge and jury, prompting David Davis, the former shadow home secretary who is Mitchell’s closest ally, to say: “The police seem not to understand that is the law. Obeying the law and enforcing the law happens to be their job.”
A joint statement from the chief constables of Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands forces said: “Andrew Mitchell MP has never made a complaint to police. West Mercia, with the support of West Midlands and Warwickshire police, recognising the public interest in this case, independently decided to investigate this incident and made a referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.”
The skirmish was the opening act to the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service on eight individuals – including five police officers – accused of leaking to the media, misconduct and being part of a conspiracy to discredit Mitchell.
One friend of Mitchell accused the police of having acted in a heavy-handed way in the disputed meeting. The transcript shows that Mitchell repeated his apology to the officer in Downing Street, admitted that he swore but then insisted that he had not used the word pleb.The officers at the meeting repeatedly asked him whether he was calling the officer on duty a liar after a report of the duty officer’s notes of the encounter alleged that Mitchell had called him a “fucking pleb”. Mitchell declined to call the officer a liar. This prompted the Warwickshire officer to say that he was required under his code of conduct to report the officer for issuing a false statement.
In her report Glass said: “Despite their apparent enthusiasm during the meeting for reporting their MPS colleague for lying, in fact none of the officers do so, but immediately tell the waiting media, in effect, that it is Mr Mitchell’s integrity which is in question.”
A friend of Mitchell said: “The meeting was Kafkaesque. It was utterly brutal.”
Davis told the Guardian: “What they said outside the meeting did not reflect what happened inside the meeting. At its mildest they misled the public. You have this issue of a pre-meditated lie.
“The people we are talking about here can arrest you, lock you up, charge you and give evidence against you in court. That is what they do as their profession. So for them to have a pre-meditated deception seems to me to be not just a misconduct but misconduct that is very material to their ability to do their jobs.”