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Plebgate police officers backed by Commissioner Bob Jones accused by MPs of ‘obstructing truth’

Plebgate police officers backed by Commissioner Bob Jones accused by MPs of ‘obstructing truth’

🕔03.Nov 2013

West Midlands police commissioner Bob Jones’s decision to back three officers at the centre of the Andrew Mitchell Plebgate affair is looking increasingly ill-judged after the men were accused by the Home Affairs Select Committee of giving “misleading evidence lacking in credibility” when quizzed about the incident

Mr Jones conducted a high-profile media campaign backing a decision following an internal investigation not to take disciplinary action against Det Sgt Stuart Hinton from Warwickshire Police, Sgt Chris Jones of West Midlands Police and Insp Ken Mackail of West Mercia Police – who were accused of giving a misleading account of a meeting they had with Mr Mitchell.

But a blistering report from the Home Affairs Select Committee accuses the three of attempting to “obstruct the truth” and giving “contradictory” answers to questions.

The investigation into the conduct of the officers, described by the committee chairman as “rivalling any great work of fiction”, is to be reopened and overseen by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The three officers, representing the Police Federation, met Mr Mitchell at his Sutton Coldfield constituency headquarters for a ‘clear the air’ session after the Tory MP had become embroiled in a row with officers as he attempted to wheel his bicycle through the main gates out of Downing Street.

Mr Mitchell admitted losing his temper and swearing after being told he could not ue the main gates, but denied calling the police “plebs”.

After meeting the MP, the Police Federation representatives told reporters that Mr Mitchell refused to elaborate on events in Downing Street. A week later, Mr Mitchell was forced to resign as government chief whip.

However, unknown to the three officers, Mr Mitchell recorded their meeting and a transcript showed the Federation officers comments did not accurately reflect what he said.

Det Sgt Hinton and Sgt Chris Jones are to be recalled to the Home Affairs Committee when they will be asked to apologise for misleading MPs. Failure to do so could, in theory, result in an unlimited prison sentence for being in contempt of parliament.

The committee report found that Det Sgt Hinton’s evidence to MPs “could only be described as mendacious” because he initially claimed his derogatory reference to the Home Secretary was a typographical error.

The report also heaped criticism on West Midlands chief constable Chris Sims and the chief constables of West Mercia and Warwickshire for “showing an absence of leadership at a critical time” and for belatedly apologising to Mr Mitchell.

The committee report also states that West Midlands assistant chief constable Gary Cann may have applied pressure to change the conclusions of the internal investigation, which MPs described as extremely serious.

Home Affairs Committee chairman Keith Vaz MP said: “We were appalled by the evidence given by DS Hinton, Sgt Jones and Inspector MacKaill. It is now clear that DS Hinton and Sgt Jones misled the committee, possibly deliberately. We have recalled them to correct the record and if they do not, they will be in prima facie contempt of parliament.

“We are also concerned that the chief constables of Warwickshire and West Midlands have not re-determined their conclusions to this investigation. This matter has been hugely damaging to the public’s perception of the reputation of the police officers involved, the Police Federation and the force itself.

“We have referred the police officers to the IPCC and we welcome their announcement to make a fully independent decision on this investigation which is what we asked them to consider. It is vital that the public see that where police officers make mistakes, they will be held to account. Only then will we be able to focus on the outstanding work done by our police forces.

“The narrative of what we have seen could rival any great work of fiction. At every point and at every level, instead of being transparent, we have uncovered a process that obstructs the truth. If this can happen to a cabinet minister, what hope is there for anyone else?”

Mr Jones issued a formal statement in response to the Home Affairs Committee report welcoming the IPCC’s “belated” decision to independently review the internal inquiry into the conduct of the Police Federation representatives.

He added:  “This is the position that I, and others, have consistently held.  This view is reinforced by the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee.  My concerns about the IPCC’s supervision of this matter are well documented.  It is helpful that the further consideration of the matter will not involve anyone from the IPCC who has been involved to date.

“I do welcome that the statement made by the Deputy Chair, Deborah Glass, in which she acknowledges procedural irregularities, makes it clear that her decision that the IPCC should consider the matter on an independent basis is in no way a reflection of the work carried out by the Investigating Officer from West Mercia or the decision making senior officers within Warwickshire, West Mercia and my own West Midlands force.

“In fact she confirms the evidence she gave to the Home Affairs Select Committee that a thorough investigation had been undertaken.  I therefore regret that the Home Affairs Select Committee has felt the need to make the suggestion that Assistant Chief Constable Cann may have been seeking to improperly access the report and seek to change its conclusions.

“This is a serious inference to draw without the committee having taking further evidence.  I am aware that my chief constable has written to the chairman of the committee asking him to look again at this conclusion as a matter of urgency.

“I would hope in the interests of fairness, for all those that have been involved in the investigation to date and those that will continue to be so, that all steps will be taken to progress the matter in a timely manner.  To do otherwise would further contribute to what all acknowledge is a highly undesirable position for both the public and policing.”

 

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