England

'Plebgate' row: Officer cleared of misconduct

Det Sgt Stuart Hinton Image copyright PA
Image caption Det Sgt Stuart Hinton was cleared of breaching police integrity standards over "plebgate"

A detective accused of giving a misleading account of an interview with Andrew Mitchell in the 2012 "plebgate" row has been cleared of misconduct.

Det Sgt Stuart Hinton had praised the Tory MP for his "candour" before later telling the BBC he had been evasive, a tribunal heard.

A misconduct panel cleared him of breaching policing integrity standards.

Mr Mitchell said inquiries into police conduct should be independent to "command more public confidence".

Warwickshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Ball criticised the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for its handlings of the case, accusing it of ineptitude "from start to finish".

Mitchell called PCs plebs, judge says

'Plebgate' row: Timeline

Transcript and audio of the Andrew Mitchell police meeting

The "plebgate" row centred on a 15-second confrontation in September 2012 between Mr Mitchell and PC Toby Rowland, in which - according to the Sun newspaper - the then Conservative chief whip called the officer a "pleb" for his refusal to permit him to cycle through the main gates at Downing Street.

Mr Mitchell was forced to resign from the cabinet over the row but vowed to clear his name in the libel courts, launching an action against the Sun.

But a judge ruled in 2014 that the MP probably had called PC Rowland a "pleb" and Mr Mitchell was ordered to pay damages as well as the Sun's legal costs.

Image copyright PA
Image caption In 2014 a judge ruled that MP Andrew Mitchell probably had called PC Rowland a "pleb"

A gross misconduct case against serving Warwickshire Police officer Det Sgt Hinton heard he and two Police Federation members met Mr Mitchell on 12 October 2012 at his constituency office, weeks after the incident at Downing Street.

A recording of the meeting showed Det Sgt Hinton thanking Mr Mitchell for his "candour", later telling him, "Everybody can have a bad day" after the MP had admitted to swearing at a police officer but had denied calling him a "pleb".

But the hearing heard Det Sgt Hinton told BBC Radio 5 Live the following day: "He [Mr Mitchell] still won't say exactly what he did say, which suggests that the officer's account is more likely to be the accurate one."

In that interview Det Sgt Hinton, described by colleagues as a "model detective", also called for Mr Mitchell to resign.

In his closing statement to the panel, presenting officer Aaron Rathmell said the officer had "passed judgment" and not given a fair and accurate account of the meeting.

But the detective's barrister Adrian Keeling said a man of "integrity" had been charged with "inaccurately reporting the lies told by a dishonest man".

"Hindsight absolutely supports Sgt Hinton's honest, accurate and candid view, relying on his good sense and judgement, which no doubt he's relied upon all these years [as a detective]," said Mr Keeling.

A string of glowing references from senior officers, including a retired chief constable, had also described Det Sgt Hinton's character as "beyond reproach".

'Wasn't misleading'

Giving the decision, tribunal chairman Assistant Chief Constable Ingrid Lee, of South Yorkshire Police, said: "The panel are of the view that this [Mr Mitchell's] was such a partial account of what was believed to have happened it wasn't misleading for Sgt Hinton to say 'he still won't say exactly what he did say' in his radio interview."

Mr Ball said Det Sgt Hinton had been subject to an "overly lengthy" three-year wait before he was cleared and accused the IPCC of performing "extremely poorly" throughout the case.

"Had the IPCC taken a different decision initially and conducted their own independent investigation - which allegations of this seriousness would have merited - this whole process could have been completed literally years ago, saving vast amounts of money," he said.

The IPCC said it had carried out a "thorough investigation" and its role was to gather evidence and establish whether officers should face misconduct proceedings. It added it was for police forces to hold these hearings and determine the outcome.

At the end of last year, a disciplinary panel found Mr Hinton's West Mercia Police Federation colleague Insp Ken Mackaill guilty of misconduct.

His other colleague, West Midlands Police's Sgt Chris Jones was cleared of any wrong-doing.

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