Police officers accused of lying in the Plebgate scandal involving Andrew Mitchell will be hauled back to the Commons this week and forced to apologise for misleading MPs – or face being found guilty of contempt of parliament.
A report from the home affairs select committee savages the evidence of three Police Federation representatives who were called to answer claims they gave a false account of a meeting with Mitchell, who was then the Conservative chief whip, in October last year. The report condemns the trio for giving evidence to the committee last month that was “misleading, possibly deliberately”. The chairman of the committee, the Labour MP Keith Vaz, likens their accounts to “fiction”.
The officers claimed that Mitchell had refused to give a full account of what he had said in Downing Street, when he was accused of calling police “fucking plebs” after he was prevented from cycling through the gates. He was forced to resign a week later. However, a 45-minute recording of the meeting made by the Tory MP revealed the three officers had misrepresented him.
The select committee lambasted the accounts that Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton (Warwickshire police), Sergeant Chris Jones (West Midlands police) and Inspector Ken MacKaill (West Mercia police) offered during an evidence session 10 days ago, concluding that: “The answers they gave were contradictory, inconsistent and provided little or no insight into their actions.”
Jones and Hinton will be summoned back to apologise to the committee on Tuesday. MacKaill has been warned that he may also be summoned if it is found that he too misled MPs.
Chief Inspector Jerry Reakes-Williams, head of professional standards at Warwickshire and West Mercia police, who led an inquiry into the October 2012 meeting between Mitchell and the federation officials, said he believed that officers should face misconduct charges. West Mercia Police, however, concluded that there was no case to answer for misconduct. The committee said it was perturbed to find no formal minutes or detailed notes of a briefing during which Reakes-Williams discussed his findings with senior officers.
The committee also found it “extraordinary” that Andy Parker, chief constable of Warwickshire, sought to correct the evidence of Hinton in a manner that suggested he lacked impartiality. Assistant Chief Constable Gary Cann of West Midlands was also criticised for attempting to access the final report of the misconduct investigation prior to it being signed off by the IPCC.
The quality of the evidence supplied by the officers to the committee is, says the report, exemplified by Hinton’s response when MPs asked whether his reference to “this woman that the Conservative party have” was in fact a reference to the home secretary, Theresa May. He suggested that it was “a typo, to be perfectly honest”.
However, in a subsequent letter to the committee, Hinton concedes that the woman referred to must be the home secretary. Jones is also condemned for his failure to give a full account of his disciplinary record to the committee.
One aspect of this whole episode is the role of the newly created elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). West Mercia’s PCC is Bill Longmore. West Midlands’s PCC is Bob Jones. The Independent described Warwickshire’s PCC Ron Ball, after he appeared on Newsnight, as “comically out of his depth”. Ball has no previous policing experience and was elected by a turnout of 15.65 per cent.