Plebgate row: Officer apologises to MPs over evidence

Det Sgt Stuart Hinton: "I inadvertently gave an inaccurate answer to the committee"

A police officer has apologised to MPs for an "inadvertent error" in evidence to them about the "plebgate" affair.

Det Sgt Stuart Hinton, of Warwickshire Police, said he had made an "honest" mistake in a previous hearing held by the Home Affairs Committee last month.

He also said he regretted the "distress" felt by Andrew Mitchell and his family during the whole saga.

But Sgt Chris Jones, of West Midlands Police, said he had not misled MPs over his disciplinary record.

On Tuesday, he told MPs 13 complaints had been made about him but none had been upheld.

The two men met MP Andrew Mitchell in his Sutton Coldfield constituency in October last year, a month after the then chief whip had been accused of calling Downing Street officers "plebs" when they refused to let him ride his bicycle through the main gates.

He apologised for using bad language but denied using the word "pleb". He later resigned as chief whip as the row continued.

'Mendacious'

After the meeting the officers, who as part of the Police Federation represent rank and file officers in Warwickshire and the West Midlands, told the media Mr Mitchell had failed to give an account of what had happened in Downing Street.

But a transcript of a recording Mr Mitchell made of the meeting suggested he had provided an explanation - a view endorsed by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Keith Vaz: "This was a really important opportunity to apologise"

The two men, who were questioned for a first time by MPs last month, were asked back to correct their earlier evidence.

This happened after the committee found Det Sgt Hinton had been "mendacious" over comments recorded in the transcript of the meeting with Mr Mitchell, in which he referred to this "woman that the Conservative Party have".

Det Sgt Hinton refused to acknowledge he had meant Home Secretary Theresa May, but he later said he had.

Both men said it had not been their intention to mislead the committee and apologised if they had done so.

'This woman'

Det Sgt Hinton said he had had listened again to the recording of the meeting with Mr Mitchell and acknowledged that he had referred disparagingly to the home secretary as "this woman".

This was clearly inappropriate, he said, and confirmed he had written to Mrs May to apologise.

Asked why he had not admitted this in his previous evidence, the officer said he had not remembered the remarks at the time and did not believe they "made sense".

"It follows that I inadvertently gave an inaccurate answer to the committee," he said. "There was no intention to mislead the committee. I repeat my unqualified apology to the committee for this inaccuracy."

Sgt Jones has been accused of not providing a "full account" of his disciplinary record after telling MPs at the previous hearing that he had never had any official warnings about his conduct.

'Not indifferent'

It emerged after the hearing that more than 10 complaints had been made about his behaviour.

He said he apologised if he had misunderstood the question but said none of the complaints had resulted in disciplinary proceedings although two - including one that followed an off-duty incident during which he had pushed a fellow officer in the back causing him to sustain a mouth injury - resulted in "management advice" being given.

The two men said they were "not indifferent" to the pain that the whole episode had caused Mr Mitchell, saying "each of us fully recognises and regrets the fact that such distress has been caused".

But Sgt Jones said he stood by the men's version of what was said during the October 2012 encounter.

"I cannot apologise for something I have not done," Sgt Jones - who has been accused by some Conservative MPs of not giving a full account of the details of the meeting - insisted.

Labour MP Keith Vaz, who chairs the committee, said he accepted the officers' comments but was "disappointed" that they had not given an "unequivocal apology" to Mr Mitchell and his family.

He said he understood Andrew Mitchell's wife was in the audience and it had been a "really important opportunity for them to say to her and her family that distress was caused".

It was, he added, now up to the Independent Police Complaints Commission to decide if disciplinary proceedings were warranted against the officers concerned after a previous inquiry by the three forces resulted in no action.

The chair of the police watchdog Dame Ann Owers said she hoped to conclude its inquiry by the end of the year.

The BBC News Channel's chief political correspondent Norman Smith said the hearing had not drawn a line under the affair and that the stakes for the officers were very high.

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