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'Plebgate': police honesty queried
A police chief whose force spared three officers from misconduct hearings over claims they tried to discredit former Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell is to be summoned before MPs to explain the controversial decision.
Inspector Ken MacKaill, Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton and Sergeant Chris Jones were accused of lying about what Mr Mitchell said in a meeting at his Sutton Coldfield constituency office held nearly a month after the so-called "plebgate" row erupted.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) questioned the "honesty and integrity" of the Police Federation representatives as it concluded they should have faced a misconduct panel - but the police watchdog added it was powerless to enforce such proceedings.
As Mr Mitchell garnered cross-party support from both the current and a former home secretary, an influential Commons committee said David Shaw, chief constable West Mercia Police, which decided the officers should not face misconduct hearings, would be called next week.
In a statement released after the IPCC published its findings, Mr Mitchell said he and his family had "waited in vain" for Mr MacKaill, Mr Hinton and Mr Jones to be held to account.
"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," he said.
"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 original incident, in which Mr Mitchell was accused of calling officers guarding Downing Street "plebs" as he cycled through the main gates on September 19 last year, was the subject of a separate Metropolitan Police investigation following claims officers conspired against the politician.
Mr Mitchell met Mr MacKaill, Mr Hinton and Mr Jones, federation representatives of West Mercia, Warwickshire and West Midlands respectively , on October 12 to "clear the air".
A transcript shows Mr Mitchell apologised for swearing at the police officers but denied using the word "plebs".
In comments made after the meeting, Mr MacKaill claimed the former Tory chief whip would not provide an account of the incident.
West Mercia Police conducted an internal investigation into claims the three officers were trying to discredit Mr Mitchell but concluded there was no case to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct.
However, IPCC deputy chair Deborah Glass said she disagreed with their findings and added that the evidence reveals " an issue of honesty and integrity, not merely naive or poor professional judgment" among the federation representatives.
She said: "In the media and political climate of the day, I do not consider that the officers could have been in any doubt about the impact of their public statements on the pressure being brought on Mr Mitchell.
"As police officers, they had a responsibility to present a fair and accurate picture.
"Their motive seems plain: they were running a successful, high-profile, anti-cuts campaign and the account that he provided to them did not fit with their agenda."
Ms Glass said the officers must have known Mr Mitchell was under pressure to resign his post following scenes at the Conservative Party conference at which Federation members were seen wearing "PC Pleb" T-shirts.
She said: "It was clear that the parties had very different agendas for the meeting."
Appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee, Home Secretary Theresa May said it was "quite wrong" of West Mercia Police not to take disciplinary proceedings against the three officers.
Mrs May said: "The IPCC statement makes troubling reading. If it is indeed the case that warranted police officers behaved in the way Deborah Glass has described, that's not acceptable at all."
Asked if the chief constable of West Mercia Police should apologise to Mr Mitchell, Mrs May said: "I think that would be appropriate."
She added: "The police need the trust of the public. These sorts of incident will strike at the heart of that issue of trust."
Former Labour home secretary Jack Straw, who is a close friend of Mr Mitchell, said: " It is lamentable but undoubtedly true, as the IPCC has concluded, that Mr Mitchell has been the victim of wholly unacceptable behaviour by some police officers, a wrong compounded by the woeful inadequacy of the police investigation into this misconduct.
"I hope that this will at last lead to effective action by the employing police forces concerned, and to Mr Mitchell being able to resume his full contribution to British political life. I also hope that the officers concerned might be big enough to apologise."
A statement from Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands Police said the IPCC chose not to exercise powers that would have allowed it to order the three forces to hold misconduct proceedings
It said: "Despite a thorough investigation under the supervision of the IPCC, we do not believe that there is sufficient evidence to support the view that the officers concerned should face misconduct proceedings. Our view is that the officers have demonstrated poor judgment in arranging and attending the meeting in the first place."
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is considering whether to bring criminal charges following Scotland Yard's £230,000-plus investigation, known as Operation Alice. Eight people including five police officers arrested under Operation Alice were re-bailed.
The police force came under fire for its handling of the inquiry, with ex-director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald and Mr Straw among senior figures who criticised the length of time and cost of the inquiry.
A statement from the Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents tens of thousands of rank-and-file officers, hit out at the IPCC deputy chair for making a "personal outburst".
It said: " Either the IPCC are capable of supervising investigations or they are not. If they feel that they are capable of doing so, having had the opportunity to monitor and provide input into the process, the proper and responsible course must be to accept the investigation findings."
Police Federation chairman Steve Williams later wrote to Mrs May expressing "deep concern" about the comments by Ms Glass and asking for an urgent meeting.
"My concern is that by releasing her personal view that she disagrees with the findings of the West Mercia investigation she displays a lack of independence. This threatens to undermine the considered findings of the investigation in the eyes of the public, whereas in fact those investigating and deciding the case are the proper arbiters in this matter," he wrote.
"I would very much appreciate an urgent meeting to discuss this issue in more detail."
West Mercia police commissioner Bill Longmore said: " This matter was referred by the West Mercia force to the IPCC at the outset inviting the IPCC to take conduct of this clearly sensitive matter.
"The IPCC chose not to do so; instead they supervised an investigation conducted by the three forces whose officers were involved.
"I think it is also important to understand that the three forces were asked to investigate a very specific matter surrounding an interview given to the media by the three officers from the Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands police forces. These officers were, at the time, representing the Police Federation. This investigation was limited to only that interview.
"I understand that the police officers conducting the supervised investigation kept the IPCC fully informed as the investigation proceeded and shared their views as to the extent of the evidence available to justify any disciplinary action or otherwise.
"I understand that despite this, and in the knowledge of the investigation's conclusions, the IPCC chose not to resume responsibility for the inquiry.
"Given the critical statement which the IPCC Deputy Chair has made in the last few hours, I am frankly surprised the IPCC did not resume conduct of the investigation - they certainly had the power to do so.
"As this matter is now subject of evidence before the Home Affairs Select Committee, I feel unable to comment further. I am however seeking a meeting with the Home Secretary to discuss the matter with her."
A joint statement from the chief constables of Warwickshire, West Mercia And West Midlands forces said: " We understand the interest in this matter and Chief Constable David Shaw welcomes the opportunity to appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee next week.
"The Chief Constables of Warwickshire and West Midlands Police are also ready and willing to attend the committee.
"Hasc (the Home Affairs Select Committee) provides a good opportunity to discuss this case in detail."
The statement went on: " 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.
"We asked for the matter to be independently investigated by the IPCC because we recognise the significant public interest in the matter, however this was declined. The IPCC have supervised this investigation throughout and have been invited to reconsider their position on more than one occasion.
"The decisions following this investigation were carefully considered, with the support of appropriate legal advice. Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands Police have separately considered the findings of the investigation and all three forces agree on the outcome."