Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Watchdog slammed over Mitchell case

A Police and Crime Commissioner has questioned the conduct of the police watchdog over the investigation into the 'plebgate' row involving Andrew Mitchell.

A police and crime commissioner (PCC) has lashed out at the police watchdog over suggestions officers deliberately altered a report on a meeting held with former Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell at the height of the so-called plebgate row.

The deputy chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) publicly called for a misconduct panel to decide if three police officers gave a false account of discussions they had with the Tory MP nearly a month after the original incident.

An e-mail to police chiefs from Deborah Glass, deputy chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), said a police investigation initially concluded that the Police Federation representatives had a case to answer for misconduct but later reversed its decision.

Bob Jones, PCC for West Midlands, one of the forces entangled in the affair, said her e-mail effectively suggests senior officers interfered with the report and has demanded an explanation from IPCC chairwoman Dame Anne Owers.

In a letter to Dame Anne, Mr Jones said he has received assurances from his chief constable that West Midlands Police only received one copy of the report, although it is West Mercia Police, a neighbouring force, that was responsible for the internal inquiry.

He said: " I would hope your further investigation into the assertion in Deborah Glass's letter, which has led to media speculation that senior officers interfered with the investigating officer's report, would show that this is a gross distortion of what actually took place."

He added: "If I was to make an analogy with the criminal justice process, the press release is akin to a police officer commenting after a trial that the accused was, despite being acquitted, guilty as hell."

Mr Jones went on: " Your deputy's actions have led to a position where the integrity and honesty of the investigating teams she was supervising have been vilified in Parliament and the media.

"I would ask you to look very carefully to see if any of your staff were in any way responsible for spinning an interpretation of the letter which unfairly slurs the integrity of all those involved in the investigation process."

Mr Mitchell met the Police Federation representatives after he was accused of calling officers guarding Downing Street ''plebs'' in a foul-mouthed rant as he was asked to cycle through a side gate on September 19 last year.

But the officers were accused of deliberately misrepresenting what the MP said during the meeting in his Sutton Coldfield constituency office on October 12 last year when they gave interviews immediately afterwards.

The IPCC questioned the ''honesty and integrity'' of Inspector Ken MacKaill, Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton and Sergeant Chris Jones and concluded that they should have faced a misconduct panel.

Prime Minister David Cameron insisted Mr Mitchell was owed an apology by police and said the conduct of the officers, who were representing the forces of West Mercia, Warwickshire and West Midlands, was "not acceptable".

In an e-mail later seen by reporters, Ms Glass wrote: "I note that in the first draft submitted to the IPCC in July, the senior investigating officer did in fact conclude there was a case to answer for misconduct, although their final report, submitted in August did not."

This development prompted Warwickshire PCC Ron Ball to request a review of the West Mercia investigation.

West Mercia Chief Constable David Shaw said: "I completely understand why PCC Ron Ball has requested a review into the West Mercia Police-led investigation.

" This work is currently ongoing to clarify the specific issues raised in the IPCC letter.

"Once this review has been completed a full and comprehensive account will be shared with Mr Ball."

The original incident is the subject of a separate Metropolitan Police investigation following claims that officers conspired against the politician.

Mr Mitchell met Mr MacKaill, Det Sgt Hinton and Sgt Jones on October 12 last year to "clear the air" following his clash with police in Downing Street.

A transcript shows Mr Mitchell apologised for swearing at the police officers but denied using the word "plebs", while in comments made after the meeting Mr MacKaill claimed the former Tory chief whip refused to provide an account of the incident.

West Mercia Police conducted an internal investigation into claims the three officers were trying to discredit Mr Mitchell but concluded there was no case to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct.

It is understood the chief constables of West Mercia, Warwickshire and West Midlands have all been asked to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee next week, although their attendance is yet to be confirmed.

The Crown Prosecution Service is considering whether to bring criminal charges following Scotland Yard's £230,000-plus investigation, known as Operation Alice.

Eight people, including five police officers arrested under Operation Alice, were re-bailed.

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