An internal investigation by West Mercia Police into whether three officers lied about Birmingham MP Andrew Mitchell during the “plebgate” row did conclude that they may be guilty of misconduct, it has emerged.
Midland police forces are at odds with MPs and the Government after an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found that three Police Federation representatives, who were also serving officers, attempted to discredit the MP as he battled to save his career.
The Police and Crime Commissioners for West Midlands Police, West Mercia Police and Warwickshire Police have rejected the IPCC findings - with Bob Jones, the Commissioner for the West Midlands force, demanding that the IPCC be abolished.
And they have attacked the IPCC for rejecting the results of an internal investigation by West Mercia Police, which concluded: “We do not believe that a case of Gross Misconduct or Misconduct is made out”.
But it has now emerged that even the inquiry by the West Mercia force, which serves Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire, did initially conclude that there was a case to answer.
This is revealed in a letter from Deborah Glass, the Deputy Chair of the IPCC, to Ron Ball, Police and Crime Commissioner for Warwickshire.
She writes: “I note that in the first draft report submitted to the IPCC in July the senior investigating officer did in fact conclude there was a case to answer for misconduct, although the final report, submitted in August, did not.”
The latest twist will place even more pressure on the three forces to explain why they failed to take disciplinary action against the officers concerned.
The chief constable of West Mercia Police has been summoned to Parliament to explain himself to MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee, and David Cameron has demanded that police apologise to Mr Mitchell.
But while the row has placed the police in the spotlight it’s another victory in Mr Mitchell’s battle to clear his name over reports that he called officers guarding Downing Street “plebs” when he was asked to cycle through the main gates on September 19 last year.
The claims, which were based on anonymous comments to a London newspaper, cost him his Cabinet job as Chief Whip – but evidence including CCTV footage of the incident suggest that the allegations were untrue.
And it has emerged that a police officer who was not even present at the scene wrote a letter to one of Mr Mitchell’s Government colleagues claiming that he was a member of the public who witnessed the incident.
The report by the IPCC did not look at the incident itself but instead focused on a meeting between the MP and three representatives of the Police Federation at Mr Mitchell’s constituency office in Sutton Coldfield last October.
They were Inspector Ken MacKaill of West Mercia Police, Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton of Warwickshire Police and Sergeant Chris Jones of West Midlands Police.
After the meeting, officers gave interviews to the media suggesting that the MP had refused to explain what he had actually said to the Downing Street officers.
But a transcript of the meeting shows that he did repeatedly deny using the word “pleb” or anything similar.
IPCC Deputy Chair Deborah Glass said the three officers had misrepresented Mr Mitchell in an attempt to help the Federation’s campaign against government cuts to police funding.
She said in a report: “In my view, the evidence is such that a panel should determine whether the three officers gave a false account of the meeting in a deliberate attempt to support their Metropolitan Police Service colleague and discredit Mr Mitchell, in pursuit of a wider agenda. In my opinion the evidence and the surrounding circumstances do give an indication of an issue of honesty and integrity and/or discreditable conduct, not merely naïve or poor professional judgment.”
Her report continued: “As police officers they had a responsibility to present a fair and accurate picture. Their motive seems plain: as the West Mercia investigating officer noted, ‘they were running a successful, high profile, anti-cuts media campaign and the account that he provided to them did not fit with their agenda’.”
Welcoming the finding, Mr Mitchell (Con Sutton Coldfield) said the Police Federation had asked him for a “private” meeting to “clear the air” – but then used the event for political purposes.
He said: “The meeting was demonstrably held under false pretences and its outcome, a call for my resignation, was almost certainly pre-determined. The inconvenient truth that I gave a full explanation of what happened was not allowed to get in the way of that agenda.”
The Prime Minister, echoing comments made by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has said police should apologise.
David Cameron told the Commons: “What’s being discussed here is the fact that ... the former chief whip had a meeting with Police Federation officers in his committee where he gave a full account of what had happened, they left that meeting and claimed he had given them no account at all.
“Fortunately this meeting was recorded so he has been able to prove that what he said was true and what the police officers said was untrue.”
Mr Cameron added: “He is owed an apology, the conduct of these officers was not acceptable.”
West Midlands police commissioner Bob Jones said Ms Glass’s report “vilifying the officers concerned was gratuitous and in my opinion an abuse of process”
He said: “Following a detailed investigation, with legal advice, three experienced senior officers from three separate forces, all under the supervision of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, came to the clear conclusion that there were no grounds for disciplinary action in relation to the case involving Andrew Mitchell and representatives of the Police Federation.
“Then, IPCC Deputy Chair Deborah Glass – who supervised the investigation throughout and could have taken over the management of this case at any time, yet did not – for some reason decided to issue a press statement giving a different view.
“She did not state what elements of the process she had supervised were incorrect, nor on what different facts or legal advice she decided to state her opinion. Her opinions, I emphasise, are just that – opinions – and have no legal status. Her role should have been to comment as to whether there were any flaws in the process and she has not produced evidence of any such flaws.”
What they said:
What Andrew Mitchell told the Police Federation at the meeting:
“My memory of what I did and didn’t say is clear and I will not as a supporter of the police for twenty six years be put in a position of suggesting an officer is not telling the truth but equally I did not say and I give you my word, I give you my word, I did not call an officer an f’ing pleb I did not say you are an f’ing moron and I did not say you should know your f’ing place I would never speak to anyone like that least of all a police officer and you have my word I never said those things.”
And: “The incident was very brief I complied with the officer and I picked up my bicycle but I did say under my breath but audibly, in frustration, I thought you lot were supposed to f***ing help us and it is for that I apologise and I am grateful to that officer for accepting my apology and I should never have said it and I will never do it again.”
What officers told the media after the meeting:
Inspector Ken MacKaill of West Mercia Police: “. . . he’s continuing to refuse to elaborate on what happened”
Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton of Warwickshire Police: “He still won’t say exactly what he did say”
Sergeant Chris Jones of West Midlands Police: “The person who is lying should resign”
What West Midlands Police Federation told The Birmingham Post:
Speaking to The Birmingham Post after the meeting, Chris Jones, Secretary of West Midlands Police Federation, gave this account: “He told us that he did say under his breath ‘I thought you lot were supposed to f****** help us.’
“That was from his own lips.”
Mr Jones then referred to a document which appeared to be a police log of the Downing Street incident published in a newspaper, which reported Mr Mitchell calling officers “plebs” and telling them to “learn your f****** place.”
Mr Jones said: “He kept telling us ‘on my word of honour I did not use the words that are written in that document’.”
“He explained that he did not want to get into a ‘firefight’ with the police over what he said.”