UK politicians weigh in as 'Plebgate' affair reopens

Friday, October 18, 2013

Andrew Mitchell in 2011.
Image: Chatham House.

Following an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) ruling on Tuesday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and other senior British politicians have criticised the actions of three police forces in England for allegedly covering up the behaviour of police officers involved in the investigation of former Cabinet Minister Andrew Mitchell.

Andrew Mitchell resigned from his job in the Cabinet as Chief Whip following an incident in September 2012 at Downing Street. Mitchell had been told he could not ride his bicycle in Downing Street. The next day, The Sun newspaper reported Mitchell had sworn at the police officers and called them "plebs". Mitchell agreed he had been rude to the officers and apologised but denied he had used the word "plebs". A police log was later leaked to The Daily Telegraph which claimed Mitchell had told the officers to "learn [their] fucking place" and referred to them as "fucking plebs".

The current controversy regards a meeting between Andrew Mitchell and officers and representatives of the Police Federation, the union for police officers. The officers claim Mitchell did not disclose the precise words he said during the altercation. A tape by Mitchell has since emerged of this meeting which casts doubt on this claim.

An investigation by the IPCC ruled on Tuesday that the officers involved should face gross misconduct proceedings as there was evidence they had deliberately set out to discredit Mitchell. The report, and the revelation that Mitchell's taped version of the conversation does not match the police accounts, has led to senior figures in the government to call for the Police to apologise to Mitchell.

Despite internal recommendations, the chief constables of the relevant police forces — West Mercia, West Midlands and Warwickshire — have rejected the call for misconduct hearings.

David Cameron said of Mitchell: "He is owed an apology. The conduct of these officers was not acceptable."

Nick Clegg said on his LBC radio show it was "perfectly legitimate for Andrew Mitchell to feel pretty sore" for the behaviour of the police officers.

Conservative minister Greg Clark told the BBC that David Cameron should reinstate Mitchell. Home Secretary Theresa May said the behaviour of the police in the Mitchell affair threatened the public's trust in the police.

Sir Hugh Orde from the Association of Chief Police Officers said the chief constables need to be given chance to explain their reasons for not engaging in further disciplinary action: "It seems to me in this case there is no issue that the finding by the police service was the officers’ behaviour fell below the standard. The question is the quantum of seriousness and I think that's why the chief constables are clearly determined to explain that."

Next week, the chief constables are to appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee to discuss their decisions.