We mustn't forget what plebgate is really about

That PC Keith Wallis has admitted falsely claiming to have witnessed a row between the then-Tory chief whipAndrew Mitchell and police in Downing Street in 2012 does not help resolve what happened.

For the benefit of Martians, Mitchell had an exchange with a police officer in Downing Street when the police refused to open the gates to allow him to ride out on his bicycle. Mitchell accepts using the "F-word" in front of the police. Whether directed at the police officer or not, it was conduct unbecoming a chief whip, who is responsible for discipline within government ranks. It was behaviour for which he apologised soon afterwards.

What Mitchell vehemently denies is that he called the police plebs. The police officer concerned, PC Toby Rowland, who is not facing any misconduct charges, is suing Mitchell for libel for calling him a liar. While this may be an unusual step for a police officer to take, it is not often that a senior politician questions a police officer's integrity on the front page of national newspapers.

There is a series of possible explanations for PC Wallis's actions, including that implied by the fact that his case has been adjourned for psychiatric reports. For an offence under the Public Order Act to be committed, someone has to be caused harassment, alarm or distress. The courts have held that experienced police officers are unlikely to be affected by someone swearing. Perhaps that is the why PC Wallis pretended to be an outraged member of the public.

Why did PC Wallis send this fictional account to his MP? Ever since the Tories got back into power, they have been engaged in a programme of radical reform of the police, including changes to police pensions. Officers who thought they were two-thirds of the way through their service suddenly found they were only half way, as it now takes 40 years to qualify for a full pension. The Police Federation had thwarted previous attacks on police pay and conditions but not this time.

Rank-and-file officers felt let down by their own staff association and betrayed by the Tories, traditionally their supporters. One of Margaret Thatcher's first actions was to award the police a massive pay rise. Perhaps feeling let down, and then faced with a senior politican who lost his temper, this proof, as PC Wallis saw it, that the Tories really did hate the police just had to be made public.

Why should there be Tory hatred? They were certainly outraged in 2008 when one of their own MPs, Damian Green, was arrested and his office in the House of Commons searched for allegedly leaking sensitive information. Bearing in mind the recent history between the Conservatives and the police, it's understandable that some Tories think they have to watch their backs. As for the rest of us, I do not think our trust in the police should be unduly shaken by plebgate.

Lord Paddick served with the Met for more than 30 years. He has donated his fee for this article to this paper's charity appeal

Comments