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MPs accused of 'grandstanding'

Former Scotland Yard boss Lord Blair has accused MPs of indulging in "an uncomfortable element of grandstanding" during their grilling of three police officers over the aftermath of the plebgate row.

The ex-Metropolitan Police Commissioner has written in political magazine The House to say politicians risk appearing as "judges in their own cause" when scolding officers over their treatment of a fellow MP.

Police Federation representatives Inspector Ken MacKaill, Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton and Sergeant Chris Jones all appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee last month after they were accused of giving misleading statements about a meeting with former chief whip Andrew Mitchell in October 2012.

The chief constables of their three forces, West Mercia, Warwickshire and West Midlands, were also questioned.

Mr Hinton and Mr Jones were hauled back before MPs for a second time this week, and given a public scolding for apparent inaccuracies in their evidence, which they said were inadvertent.

The three federation representatives were initially told that they would face no action over accounts they gave of the meeting with Mr Mitchell, which the politician recorded, but this is now being re-considered by watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Lord Blair said: "No-one comes out of it with honour enhanced, not the various chief constables, not the Police Federation officials, not the IPCC, whose original decision not directly to investigate the matter has now been reversed, much too late. And there is still no answer, more than a year later, to the main question as to who said what to whom at the gates outside the centre of the British Government.

"But neither has it been a particularly elevating picture for the politicians involved.

"There was an uncomfortable element of grandstanding in the treatment by the Home Affairs Select Committee of junior officers unaccustomed to the daunting atmosphere of a parliamentary inquiry."

"As the trio blinked in the camera lights, the question must have occurred to many as to whether this was the proper tribunal for an investigation into an actual police disciplinary case.

"These were not the CEOs of energy companies or multinationals and the committee could have confined themselves to calling the relevant chief constables and IPCC commissioners but chose not to."

He said that a grilling by politicians over a row linked to a fellow MP could appear "unhealthy".

"By doing that, it is possible that some observers will question whether there is something unhealthy going on here: a display of outrage on behalf of a fellow MP that has not always been seen in relation to other legal scandals affecting ordinary citizens.

"When this is accompanied by a chorus of political voices clearly assuming that Mr Mitchell was disgracefully 'stitched-up', when that has not yet been proven (although both he and to a much lesser extent all of us have a right to be extremely fed up that that is still unknown), then an impression of politicians being over-precipitate judges in their own cause could be the unsettling result. It may be time for a period of calm reflection."

The original plebgate row began in September last year after Mr Mitchell was involved in a heated confrontation with officers in Downing Street. He admitted swearing, but denied calling the officers "plebs".

The following month, he met with Mr Hinton, Mr Jones and Mr MacKaill in his Sutton Coldfield constituency to clear the air, but a further row was sparked when the officers told journalists that he had refused to reveal what he said in Downing Street, something apparently contradicted by a recording of the meeting.


From Belfast Telegraph