The scandal of the police investigation into the “Plebgate” affair has deepened after it was suggested that three chief constables secretly overruled their own investigators to clear officers of serious wrongdoing.
A leaked letter reveals that the original police investigation into the three officers accused of lying about a meeting with the former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell found that there was enough evidence to bring disciplinary charges against them.
After the investigation report was handed over to the chief constables of West Mercia, Warwickshire and West Midlands, it was re-written to clear the officers. The development raises fresh questions about the ability of the police to investigate themselves and puts further pressure on the forces to re-open their investigations.
Today David Cameron intervened in the row for the first time, saying it was “quite wrong” that no disciplinary action was being taken against officers, who met Mr Mitchell as representatives of the Police Federation.
At Prime Minister’s questions Mr Cameron said the conduct of the officers was “not acceptable”, adding that Mr Mitchell was “owed an apology” by the Police Federation and that the incident needed to be “properly investigated”.
The revelation is contained in a letter from the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s deputy chair, Deborah Glass, explaining why she publicly disagreed with the published findings of an IPCC-monitored report into the affair.
Ms Glass said that a draft report she first saw in July concluded that there was a case of misconduct to answer, while a second report sent in August said there was no case to answer. In her letter she says didn’t believe that the evidence had changed and or supported the case to clear the officers.
IPCC sources said that they believed the decision to change the report had come only after it was submitted to the chief constables concerned for approval. A spokesman for West Mercia police who led the investigation said it had received Ms Glass’s letter but refused to comment on it.
Mr Mitchell met Inspector Ken MacKaill, Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton and Sergeant Chris Jones, Police Federation representatives of West Mercia, Warwickshire and West Midlands, on 12 October last year to “clear the air” following his clash with police in Downing Street.
A recording made by Mr Mitchell of the meeting shows that he apologised for swearing at the police officers, although he denied using the word “plebs”. But after the meeting, Mr MacKaill claimed the former Tory chief whip would not provide an account of the incident.
The original altercation, in which Mr Mitchell was accused of calling officers guarding Downing Street “plebs” as he tried to cycle through the main gates last year, has been the subject of a separate Metropolitan Police investigation.
The Independent understands that Mr Mitchell will have to wait until next week at the earliest to discover if any police officers will be charged in relation to that.
The Crown Prosecution Service is currently assessing whether there is evidence to charge five officers who have so far been arrested over the affair. But sources suggested no decision would be made before the weekend.
Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said the behaviour of the Police Federation officers had fallen below the standards expected, but their chief constables should be given the opportunity to explain their decision not to take further disciplinary action.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “It seems to me in this case there is no issue that the finding by the police service was the officers’ behaviour fell below the standard. The question is the quantum of seriousness and I think that’s why the chief constables are clearly determined to explain that.”
All three chief constables are due to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee about their decision next week. Bob Jones, the Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands, said that the officers involved had been “put on trial”.
He said: “Unfortunately those officers are in an extremely difficult position. They are being put on trial by the IPCC in the media and have basically been found guilty and haven’t got the opportunity to clear their names.”
Pleb of deceit? 13 months of bikes, lies and videotape
19 September 2012
The Conservative MP, Andrew Mitchell, who has just become the Government’s chief whip, has a row with police officers who refuse to open Downing Street’s main gate and allow him to cycle though.
20 September 2012
The story appears in The Sun newspaper, under the headline: “Cabinet minister: Police are plebs”, which reports Mr Mitchell swore at the officers and called them “plebs”.
21 September 2012
Mr Mitchell denies using the word “plebs” but apologises to the officers concerned for being disrespectful.
25 September 2012
A police log of the incident is leaked to the Daily Telegraph. It claims that members of the public witnessed the altercation in which Mr Mitchell was alleged to have said: “Best you learn your fucking place... you don’t run this fucking government...You’re fucking plebs.”
12 October 2012
Three local representatives of the Police Federation meet Mr Mitchell at his Sutton Coldfield constituency office, telling reporters afterwards that Mr Mitchell refused to disclose the precise words he had used in the incident.
They criticise him for implying that the Downing Street officers’ accounts were not accurate. They say Mr Mitchell has “no option but to resign”.
19 October 2012
After continuing political pressure, Mr Mitchell resigns, saying that the “damaging publicity” means he can no longer do his job.
16 December 2012
A police constable with the diplomatic protection group is arrested on suspicion of misconduct in a public office, and suspended.
18 December 2012
CCTV footage, broadcast on Channel 4 News, casts doubt on the police officers’ version of events. The footage suggests that no one other than the officers involved were within earshot of the altercation – despite the police log suggesting that members of the public looking on were “visibly shocked”.
Mr Mitchell says he has fallen victim to a “stitch-up”. He also reveals that he recorded his meeting with the Police Federation representatives and says it is clear that they lied in their statements to the press afterwards.
19 December 2012
Scotland Yard announces it has opened an investigation into the affair. In the ensuing months, eight people are arrested and bailed under the investigation, codenamed Operation Alice, including five police officers.
15 October 2013
With a CPS decision on whether to prosecute anyone imminent, the row is reignited. An inquiry by West Mercia police clears the Police Federation reps of misconduct, but the Independent Police Complaints Commission says it disagrees with the findings.
It says it is clear from a tape recording of the meeting that Mr Mitchell did provide an account of what he said in the altercation – despite claims by the Police Federation representatives that he didn’t. Home Secretary Theresa May says it would be “quite wrong” to take no disciplinary action against the officers.