Plebgate Q&A: Police apology over 'inadvertent error'
One officer has apologised for an 'honest' mistake, but another denies misleading MPs
ONE of the police officers embroiled in the "plebgate" scandal has apologised to MPs for an "inadvertent error" in evidence he gave to the Home Affairs Select Committee last month.
Det Sgt Stuart Hinton, a Police Federation representative from Warwickshire Police, said he had made an "honest" mistake in denying that he had referred to the Home Secretary as "this woman." He now acknowledges that he did use those words.
But Sgt Chris Jones, from West Midlands Police, stood by his evidence, saying that he had not misled MPs about his disciplinery record. He said that although 13 complaints had been made against him, none had been upheld.
MPs had previously said they were "appalled" by the pair's original evidence.
What did the officers do?
Hinton, Jones and another Federation representative, Inspector Ken Mackaill, from West Mercia Police, met with Mitchell last year in a bid to resolve the row that blew up after he was accused of calling Downing Street officers "f*****g plebs". Mitchell admitted he swore but denied that he said the word "plebs". Following the meeting, on 12 October 2012, the three officers told journalists that Mitchell had refused to elaborate on what had happened outside Downing Street and should resign, which he did one week later. However, a secret recording of the meeting, made by Mitchell, shows that he did elaborate on the incident and explained his side of the story. Accusations that the three officers had deliberately tried to discredit Mitchell were examined in an internal investigation led by West Mercia Police and supervised by the IPCC.
What were the results of the investigation?
The internal police investigation found that "while the federation representatives' comments to the media could be viewed as ambiguous or misleading, there was no deliberate intention to lie". However, in an unusual move, the IPCC released an accompanying statement to say that it disagreed with that interpretation and called into question the "honesty and integrity" of the three officers who met Mitchell. David Cameron subsequently told the Commons that the officers' conduct was "unacceptable" and that Mitchell was "owed an apology" by police, while several newspapers called for the officers to face disciplinary procedures.
What happened next?
The three Federation reps were hauled in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee on 23 October, along with the officers who carried out the internal investigation, the senior officers who signed it off and the IPCC. The three officers apologised for "poor judgement in talking to the media" but refused to apologise to Mitchell, denying they had misrepresented him. It also emerged that the chief inspector who led the investigation disagreed with senior officers and believed the three men should face action for misconduct – a view that was not reflected in the final report. The Home Affairs Select Committee concluded there were "gross procedural irregularities" in the way the three officers had been investigated, which led the IPCC to declare the original investigation void and to mount its own inquiry.
Why are the officers back in front of MPs today?
Keith Vaz, the chairman of the committee, says later reports contradicted the evidence they gave to the committee last month and wants them to apologise. The cross-party committee said Sgt Jones failed to give a "full account" of his disciplinary record when asked, while Det Sgt Hinton was lying when he refused to acknowledge that his reference to a "woman that the Conservative Party have" in the transcript of the Mitchell meeting related to Home Secretary Theresa May. Vaz said MPs were "appalled" by the officers' original evidence and that if they did not "correct the record" they would be in contempt of Parliament and face further action. The Home Affairs Select Committee will also quiz the IPCC about its new probe. ·