UK Politics

'Plebgate' meeting police apologise for briefing

Andrew Mitchell Image copyright PA
Image caption Andrew Mitchell was international development secretary for two years before becoming chief whip

Three police officers have apologised for their "poor judgement" in briefing the media about the "plebgate" scandal.

Ken MacKaill, Stuart Hinton, and Chris Jones said they had not planned to mislead the public.

They came under scrutiny when ex-cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell said he had a transcript which contradicted their account of a meeting with him.

Mr Mitchell lost his job after being accused of calling officers "plebs" - a charge he has always denied.

Insp MacKaill from West Mercia Police, Det Sgt Hinton from Warwickshire Police, and Sgt Jones from West Midlands Police said they had decided to issue a statement "in response to public concern generated by the widely reported outcome of West Mercia's investigation into matters arising from the meeting".

'Regrettable non-apology'

The statement continued: "The reputation of, and public confidence in, the police service is of immense concern to each of us.

"We acknowledge the investigation's criticism relating to our poor judgement in talking to the media following the meeting with Andrew Mitchell, for which we take this opportunity to apologise.

"We would like to emphasise (as we did to the investigation) that in no way did any of us ever plan or intend to mislead anyone about what occurred during this meeting or otherwise."

But the BBC News Channel's chief political correspondent Norman Smith said friends of Mr Mitchell - some of whom have accused the officers of lying - regarded the statement as "a regrettable non apology".

The MP resigned from the cabinet after he was accused of calling Downing Street police "plebs" when they prevented him from riding a bicycle through gates leading into Whitehall in September last year.

The meeting with officers, working as representatives of the Police Federation, was held on 12 October 2012, three weeks after the incident in Downing Street.

A transcript of a recording Mr Mitchell made shows that, while he admitted swearing, he denied using the word "pleb" or insulting the police.

But, after the meeting, three senior police officers said he had refused to elaborate on what had happened and should quit, which he later did.

Commons appearance

The police forces concerned have decided to take no action against the officers following an internal investigation, saying there was insufficient evidence to do so.

But the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which supervised the probe, said the trio's actions had brought their "honesty and integrity" into question.

The watchdog said a misconduct panel should be held to determine whether the officers gave a false account in a deliberate attempt to discredit Mr Mitchell in pursuit of a wider political agenda against police service cuts.

Mr Mitchell has not launched a formal complaint against the officers concerned but MPs from all parties have said the episode has damaged public trust in the police.

Home Secretary Theresa May has said she believes disciplinary proceedings should be started against the officers, while David Cameron has urged the police forces to apologise to Mr Mitchell.

The chief constables of West Mercia, Warwickshire and West Midlands are set to be questioned by MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee on Wednesday about their role in the affair.

They are facing allegations that they effectively overruled a proposal to charge their own men with misconduct.

The Crown Prosecution Service is currently considering whether to bring charges over the original incident outside Downing Street. Eight people, including five police officers, have been arrested and bailed over the row.

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