As published in the Birmingham Post:
Watson backs Police Federation reforms after ‘plebgate’ scandal
The Police Federation must reform, amid continued controversy over its role in the “plebgate” row, Midland MP Tom Watson has warned.
Labour MP Mr Watson has joined forces with Conservative David Davis, the former Tory leadership contender, to demand changes to the police trade union.
Mr Davis is a close friend of Birmingham MP Andrew Mitchell (Con Sutton Coldfield), who was forced to resign from the Government after he was accused of calling Downing Street police officers “plebs”, a claim he has always denied.
There has been continued controversy over the role of the Police Federation in stoking the row, which began in September 2012 when officers refused to open the Downing Street gates so that Mr Mitchell could cycle out.
One of the officers on duty at the time has now given his version of events and claims the federation used it as a political tool in their battle against Government cuts to police funding.
Ian Richardson, who is now retired, said: “I’m speaking out because I feel I have been betrayed by the leakers, mischief makers and sections of the federation. It has caused me 18 months of grief and by going public I expect I’ll get a lot more.”
He said: “It was so wrong. It was nothing to do with them. Certain people thought they had a silver bullet which they could use to overturn police reforms.”
The Police Federation led calls for Mr Mitchell to resign once details of the incident were leaked to the media.
The MP met representatives of the Police Federation from West Midlands Police, West Mercia Police and Warwickshire Police in October 2012 to try to explain his side of the story, but after the meeting they told the media he had been unable to explain what happened – although a transcript of the meeting later revealed that he had given his side of events in detail.
Mr Watson, Mr Davis and two other MPs, Lib Dem Sir Bob Russell and Conservative David Ruffley, are to lead a Commons debate on reform of the federation. They have put their names to a motion urging the federation to carry out the recommendations of a review with found it required fundamental reform.
Sir David John Normington, a former senior civil servant, was commissioned by the federation to conduct an inquiry and published a damning report which found a “worrying loss of confidence and competence” within the federation and a “serious loss of influence” outside.
The review found evidence of “bad behaviour”, poor treatment of staff and targeting on social media of representatives who held different views, “hoarding of information including financial information”, under-representation of women and minority ethnic officers and a lack of transparency in funding arrangements.
It made a series of recommendations including the creation of a new “performance and standards agreement” outlining what is expected of each federation representative. The “plebgate” row began in September 2012 when Mr Mitchell, then Tory chief whip, was accused of calling officers “plebs” at Downing Street’s main gates. Mr Watson has emerged as a supporter of Mr Mitchell after first criticising him when news of the incident emerged.
Last month PC Keith Wallis admitted falsely claiming to have witnessed the 2012 row and was jailed for 12 months for misconduct in a public office.
Following that the federation chairman Steve Williams apologised to Mr Mitchell saying: “Following the conviction of PC Keith Wallis it is only appropriate that I apologise to Mr Mitchell for the officer’s actions.
“Clearly there are ongoing legal and disciplinary issues and in the interest of all parties, including Mr Mitchell himself, I do not feel that I can comment further at this time.”