'Plebgate' and policing the police

Andrew Mitchell on his bike Andrew Mitchell denied calling officers "plebs" but did apologise for swearing

It is interesting that Sir Hugh Orde, spokesperson for top cops in England and Wales, should respond to the "plebgate" fall-out by suggesting the time may have come for an independent police ombudsman such as they have in Northern Ireland.

Three senior police officers have been criticised for apparently giving a false account of a meeting with the former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell following the incident at Downing Street. Their meeting had been secretly recorded by Mitchell.

What makes this affair so troubling for the police service is less that individual officers may have lied - although that is clearly toxic in itself - but the suggestion that when entrusted with investigating wrong-doing, chief constables did not take appropriate action.

The IPCC is the independent body specifically set up to ensure the police don't abuse their powers and cover-up their own wrong-doing. Its deputy chair Deborah Glass is saying quite clearly that chief constables were mistaken in not pursuing their officers for allegedly trying to stitch up the Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell.

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The question of whether institutions can be trusted to police themselves is a theme of our age”

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With the home secretary also raising the question of trust, this row threatens to inflict further damage to public confidence in the police.

Indeed, Downing Street has warned of just that.

"Incidents such as this do bring people to question their trust in the police," a Number 10 spokesman said on Wednesday.

And Policing Minister Damian Green has spoken of how the "corrupt behaviour" of a small minority of police officers could have a "corrosive effect on the reputation" of them all and undermine justice.

The chief constables involved point out that they initiated the investigation and had wanted the IPCC to conduct it independently.

Deborah Glass: ''The evidence indicates an issue of honesty and integrity''

However, rightly or wrongly, they were trusted to deal with the matter appropriately, and now they find themselves accused of not taking firm enough action.

The senior officers will put their side of the story in front of the home affairs select committee next week, but the question is bound to be asked - did they act in the best interest of the public or the best interest of their police force?

Their decision not to take action against the officers, in the face of strong evidence of misbehaviour at the least, will be seen in the context of other police scandals in which accusations were made of an institutional cover-up: recent revelations about the Hillsborough tragedy, the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes and the death of Ian Tomlinson.

The question of whether institutions can be trusted to police themselves is a theme of our age - bankers, MPs, newspapers. But chief constables know that their legitimacy is at stake if the public lose confidence.

As the principle ascribed to Robert Peel puts it: "The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions."

The "plebgate" affair and its aftermath would appear to put that founding principle in some jeopardy.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 754.

    753. AWPR (contd)

    I didn't say plebs,
    Don't be mucking
    Around with what I said
    I didn't say plebs
    I just said *******
    Under my breath instead

  • rate this

    Comment number 753.

    I am a Tory whip
    And I ride a butcher's bike
    I like to take a trip
    Rather than take a hike
    I never like to dismount
    Until my journey's end
    And if I'm told to dismount
    It drives me round the bend
    Open the gate, the big wide gate
    The side gate will not do
    Do it quick now don't be late
    Or I'll lose my rag with you

  • rate this

    Comment number 752.

    #751 - I did of course mean criminal arrests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 751.

    #750.I guess the trouble here is that the investigation was fed to the media by police contacts.Police were then implicated in a conspiracy resulting in criminal charges.Police federation representatives are accused of misrepresenting the truth to the media. The IPCC then question Police honesty and integrity.So, this ceased being an "internal" matter as of the evening of the first offence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 750.

    Talk about politicizing the police. If I were an employer, I would expect to be able to carry out my own investigation into whether an employee has done wrong or not and if I felt an employee had not warranted a disciplinary hearing, then the matter should be dropped, not picked up by politicians and the media. What has happened is near to breaking the data protection act as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 749.

    @ 748.Librarian

    "So you think the whole thing is a waste of money."

    I never said that or implied it, and if you are able to read my mind then you could be out earning a fortune right now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 748.

    Wham Bam
    So you think the whole thing is a waste of money.
    May be you think it should be swept under the carpet instead?
    Also being paid by newspapers for information should also be swept under the carpet, never mind Hillsborough!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 747.

    He did not swear at the policeman, but swore whilst making a statement.
    This is still not acceptable and he realized it and apologised for it, and the appology was accepted, it should have ended there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 746.

    @725 Bluebell

    I just thought it was going to be - but was sadly let down

    You are commenting on someone who is supposedly not interested in the matter - why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 745.

    #744 I guess it comes down to respect and who has earned it. Clearly on this occasion at that moment in time neither had respect for the other. Mitchell had a history of using the main gate and on this occasion it was denied him. Both appeared bloody minded.The case should have rested there. However others saw an opportunity to cause trouble but in doing so had to lie.

  • rate this

    Comment number 744.


    This story IS NOT about what any given member of the last Government got up to - two wrongs do not make a right...

    ...I ask again do you think it was acceptable behaviour for a senior member of the Government to verbally abuse the Police, regardless of actual words used...???

    If you do not agree it is unacceptable then your moral standards are somewhat lacking......

  • rate this

    Comment number 743.

    #740 I guess you can take that argument to many levels (Google "Gordon Brown" and "threw phones"). Mitchell said he uttered words under his breath but apologised for saying something he didn't say out loud and his apology was accepted for something presumably that was not heard. Who knows? However we still know who has been dishonest and you have to face up to that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 742.

    Duck houses paid for while there are homeless on the streets
    mortgage fraud
    Fraudulent Expense fiddles

    And these arrogant MP's call the police for allegedly telling a little lie? Laughable hypocrisy.

    PS As for the IPCC they are stirring the mud because they are empire building.

  • rate this

    Comment number 741.

    Mitchell meets with Police Federation and records meeting. Coppers then say exact opposite, more or less, of the recording. They are either thick, quite probable, or lying, much more likely. Very simple so why is the establishment in such a pickle? Anyone see the PCC on TV last night? He was utterly useless, had no idea what his force had been doing about all this,

  • rate this

    Comment number 740.


    The only possible reason for your saying that is that you disagree with my statement...

    ...the FACT remains that he abused the Police & has admitted that...

    ...so what part of being verbally abusive to the Police (regardless of actual words used or not) do you think is OK for a senior member of Government...???


  • rate this

    Comment number 739.

    In any communist style of government there will always be authority excesses conducted by the state police. Britain's police forces are only now realising their ability to intimidate and bully citizens (Hillsborough evidence tampering, Stephen Lawrence surveillance, Jimmy Savile, etc.) and things will get worse in the coming years. The people must regain some of the authority lost to government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 738.

    #734. Although since it's been proven as to who has been dishonest - see the Channel 4 program on this incident, the IPCC investigation, the meeting transcript and the interviews - then what is the truth of everything else? If Police are willing to tell one lie then why not a whole load of them, especially given the bad PR this gives to the Tories.

  • rate this

    Comment number 737.

    This can do nothing to reassure Joe public that the police investigating the police will only lead to buckets of whitewash.No wonder that despite what they say public trust in the police is low. In my area solving crime comes second to persecuting motorists it is an easy job not needing much effort. I can name at least 20 lazy North Yorkshire officers an that includes at least 1 inspector.

  • rate this

    Comment number 736.

    And what outcome will make life better? A total distraction and as far as I am concerned I have more pressing issues to deal with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 735.

    toff is as offensive a term as pleb, but people feel freer to use it. Why ?
    One set of standards for the left one for the right,
    one for plebs, one for toffs ?


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