With each successive twist, the saga of Andrew Mitchell’s altercation at the entrance to Downing Street – and the fallout from it – reflects more poorly on the integrity of the British police.
It was bad enough when officers’ assertions that the Chief Whip called them “fucking plebs” were revealed to be suspect. Now, it would seem that not only were Police Federation representatives engaged in some Mitchell-baiting of their own, but their respective senior officers then failed to investigate the charges with the robustness they warranted.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission certainly thinks so. The issue is one of “honesty” and misconduct hearings should have been pursued, it said this week. Evidence from the meeting between Mr Mitchell and the three Federation reps, in the immediate aftermath of the Downing Street row, is undoubtedly compelling. A recording shows the Chief Whip apologising for his loss of temper while denying his use of the toxic p-word. By the end of the session, the officers were acknowledging that their colleagues’ account was in question; yet directly afterwards they publicly criticised Mr Mitchell for “refusing to elaborate” and called for his resignation.
If it is alarming that the three officers appear to have grossly misrepresented the facts, it is hardly less so that their forces concluded that the matter did not require further investigation. With the IPCC, the Home Secretary and even the Prime Minister now calling for disciplinary action, it can only be hoped that this supplementary scandal will be dragged out of the shadows at last.
Meanwhile, however, we remain no nearer the truth about the incident itself. More than 12 months on, although the Metropolitan Police has taken 800 statements and eight people have been bailed, no charges have been brought. All of which only adds to the cloud of suspicion.
Indeed, “Plebgate” has catastrophic implications for the police. The suggestion that some serving officers stitched up a member of a government pursuing unpopular reforms, and that others conspired to cover it up, would be incendiary in any event. Against a background of serial misconduct – from Hillsborough to phone-hacking – it speaks of systemic ills that can no longer be ignored.
The sooner the Crown Prosecution Service reaches a decision on charges, the better. But matters cannot rest there. The IPCC, which is known to lack either the power or the resources to do its job convincingly, also needs radical reform. Even that is not enough, though. In the face of overwhelming evidence of a police culture that puts looking after its own above all else, this newspaper has repeatedly called for a full public inquiry into the service. Plebgate makes the case stronger still. Only then will the boil be lanced and the public trust, upon which policing rests, be restored.