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'Plebgate' Police Federation chief escapes punishment despite standards breach

Published 18/12/2015

Inspector Ken Mackaill was cleared of accusations he acted dishonestly
Inspector Ken Mackaill was cleared of accusations he acted dishonestly

A Police Federation official accused of giving a misleading account of a meeting with Plebgate row MP Andrew Mitchell has escaped any punishment despite breaching policing standards.

A West Mercia Police misconduct panel decided to impose no sanction on Inspector Ken Mackaill after finding him guilty of discreditable conduct over his behaviour during the furore in 2012.

The three-member panel, chaired by a Lincolnshire Police assistant chief constable, cleared him of acting dishonestly, having found Mr Mackaill's breach of professional standards amounted to misconduct rather than the higher-level of gross misconduct.

The hearing centred around comments made by the officer - the then chairman of the West Mercia Police Federation - shortly before Mr Mitchell's resignation as a Government chief whip three years ago.

Addressing the media outside the Sutton Coldfield MP's constituency office on October 12, 2012, Mr Mackaill called for Mr Mitchell to resign and claimed the politician had "refused to elaborate" on what happened during a verbal exchange with police officers in Downing Street.

Mr Mitchell, commenting on the hearing's outcome, said: "I think it is best we all move on from this."

However, a person close to the process has said the matter was akin to the police force "marking their own homework".

"It shows it's just not practical or fair for the police to be marking their own homework," said the source.

"The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said he (Mr Mackaill) should be done for gross misconduct and it just shows the police cannot be trusted to carry out the process themselves.

"It's not sensible and it's not accountable.

"It shows that what is required is a completely independent process, independent of the police."

Earlier this year, West Mercia Police agreed with the conclusion of an IPCC investigation that its officer should face disciplinary proceedings for gross misconduct.

This was despite the force concluding in an internal investigation in 2013 that no officer had a case to answer.

Commenting after the disciplinary hearing, Detective Superintendent Gary Watson, the head of professional standards for Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police, said: "This matter has been the subject of the most intense scrutiny and the due process has been concluded.

"The force accepts the decision of the panel."

The IPCC ruled in July that Mr Mackaill and a Warwickshire Police Federation official should face disciplinary action after a recording of their meeting with Mr Mitchell was broadcast by Channel 4's Dispatches programme.

West Mercia Police said in a statement: "The hearing centred around allegations that the officer gave misleading accounts of a meeting held with a member of parliament in 2012.

"The panel found the behaviour of Inspector Mackaill breached the Standards of Professional Behaviour for discreditable conduct, which amounted to misconduct.

"The panel decided that no further action will be taken in respect to the breach.

"The panel also considered breaches for honesty and integrity, however these were not found to be proven."

The West Mercia Police Federation confirmed in a statement that a disciplinary panel had chosen to to take "no further action" against Mr Mackaill, who is considering an appeal.

The statement read: "It is noted that allegations of dishonesty, deliberate conduct and gross misconduct were rejected by the panel."

The IPCC completed an independent investigation in May this year into the conduct of three Police Federation representatives following their meeting with Mr Mitchell.

IPCC Commissioner Carl Gumsley announced in August that he had "directed" Warwickshire Police to hold a misconduct hearing for Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton after the force declined to follow a recommendation that there was a case to answer for gross misconduct.

In its statement, the West Mercia federation added: "Pending the hearing against Det Sgt Stuart Hinton, it would not be appropriate to comment any further."

Mr Mitchell was ordered to pay substantial legal costs and damages following his unsuccessful Plebgate libel action at the High Court in November last year.

At the time the costs of the entire litigation were unofficially estimated at £3 million, and in March this year the officer at the centre of the infamous Downing Street altercation, Pc Toby Rowland, accepted £80,000 in damages from the MP.

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