The independent police complaints watchdog has launched a withering attack on a police force that cleared three serving officers of deliberately lying about a meeting with a cabinet minister.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission said it disagreed with a decision by West Mercia Police not to bring charges of gross misconduct against the men because of clear evidence that they a “gave a false account” to discredit the former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell.
However the IPCC admitted it was powerless to compel West Mercia to instigate misconduct proceedings as Mr Mitchell himself had not made a formal complaint.
The three officers, who were all Police Federation representatives, were accused of deliberately misrepresenting what Mr Mitchell said during a meeting in his Sutton Coldfield constituency office on October 12.
The ‘clear the air’ meeting was held in the wake of the ‘plebgate’ row – in which Mr Mitchell was accused of calling a Downing Street protection officer a ”pleb”.
During the meeting, which was recorded by Mr Mitchell, he told the officers: “I did not say and I give you my word, I did not call the officer an f**king pleb...............But I did say, you know, under my breath but audibly, in frustration, I thought you lot were supposed to f**king help us. I did say that and it is for that, that I apologise.
In media interviews afterwards one of the officers told journalists: “He will not tell us what he actually said.”
In a statement Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands Police said they did not believe the officers had been guilty of misconduct.
“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 judgement in arranging and attending the meeting in the first place. In light of this our position is that management action is a proportionate response.”
But Deborah Glass, IPCC Deputy Chair, said she did not agree with their conclusion.
“In my opinion the evidence indicates an issue of honesty and integrity, not merely naïve or poor professional judgment,” she said.
“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.
She said while she did not have the power to “direct misconduct proceedings” because Mr Mitchell had not made a formal complaint she believed “it is important to put my disagreement on record, and to set out the evidence so that the public can judge for themselves.”
In a statement Mr Mitchell said he hoped there would be “considerable public concern” that three Police Federation representatives accused of trying to discredit him will face "no disciplinary consequences for their behaviour”.
“I flatly reject the conclusion of the police that 'there was no deliberate intention to lie',” he said.
“I welcome the statement from Deborah Glass disagreeing with that conclusion and holding that the officers should have been made the subject of disciplinary proceedings.”