Plebgate: PM demands police apology over Mitchell smear
If police can treat a Cabinet minister like this, people are asking, what hope does a young black man have?
IN AN UNPRECEDENTED face-off with senior police chiefs, David Cameron has thrown his weight behind Home Secretary Theresa May's demands for disciplinary action against police officers involved in the 'plebgate' scandal.
Today at Prime Minister's Questions, Cameron also demanded a police apology for the victim of the scandal, Andrew Mitchell, the man he sacked from his Cabinet in 2012 on the assumption that there was truth in the allegation that the then Chief Whip had called officers in Downing Street "f***ing plebs".
Cameron said today he supported the call by May for the officers to be disciplined "100 per cent".
The conduct was "not acceptable", he said, and it was "absolutely right" of the Home Affairs Select Committee "to discuss this with the chief constables and try to find out why better redress has not been given".
This was a reference to three chief constables - of West Mercia, Warwickshire and the West Midlands - who are defying demands by Theresa May to launch disciplinary action against the police officers whose conspiracy brought down Mitchell.
Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, said after PMQs that he has never known of a situation where the Prime Minister has had to call on police for an apology and disciplinary action.
The PM's intervention follows that of Jack Straw, the former Labour Home Secretary, who went on Radio 4's Today programme this morning to accuse the police of "embroidering the truth" to smear both Mitchell and the Tory government with whom they were in conflict at the time over cuts of 20 per cent in police budgets.
Straw said: "What this shows is a poverty of leadership by the [Police] Federation and a readiness by them to resort to completely inappropriate behaviour which you would not expect of anybody, least of all police officers."
May yesterday warned at a hearing of the Home Affairs committee that a failure to take action by the three police chiefs could undermine public trust in the police.
Yet they still refuse to budge, saying they will go before MPs on the select committee, chaired by Labour MP Keith Vaz, to explain. Their officers are still facing the threat of criminal charges by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Political leaders of all main parties fear the police refusal to take action now threatens to become far more serious, going to the heart of Britain's law and order system which relies on policing by consent.
It raises again concern at police cover-ups over the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube station, and newsvendor Ian Tomlinson who died after being pushed by a police officer at a demonstration in the City of London.
It will also raise renewed doubts about the police account of the shooting of Mark Duggan at the on-going inquest. His family mouthed the word "liar" at the policeman who gave evidence about his shooting yesterday.
The Mitchell row began when it was alleged he had called police on duty in Downing Street "f***ing plebs" when they refused to open the gate for his bicycle. Mitchell has always denied it. But it now centres on a meeting Mitchell had with police officers, senior representatives of the Police Federation who were campaigning against the cuts in budgets, and even allowed members to appear in T-shirts with the word 'pleb' on them.
After the private meeting with Mitchell, the police officers went on camera to say he had failed to elaborate on what he had said. One said Mitchell's Cabinet position was "untenable". But Mitchell had secretly taped the meeting and the transcript showed that the police were lying on camera.
Ministers have confided to the Mole they believe the word 'pleb' was chosen by officers in an effort to show that the Cameron government was run by a group of rich snobs who were out of touch with the public. 'Pleb' became a toxic word for the Tories, and could still be damaging the Tory party's opinion poll ratings even now.
But if a Cabinet minister can be the victim of a police stitch-up, it raises the question about police collusion against ordinary members of the public.
BBC news presenter Clive Myrie said last night that ethnic minorities had suffered a lack of trust in the police for years. As the journalist Geoffrey Wheatcroft asks in a comment piece for The Guardian: "If the police can do this to a Cabinet minister, what will they do to a frightened black boy on a working-class street – or to any of us?"
The Independent Police Complaints Commission yesterday produced a damning report questioning the "honesty and integrity" of the officers, and said that West Mercia Police had been wrong to conclude they had no case to answer for misconduct.
Sir Hugh Orde, chairman of the Association of Chief Constables (ACPO), said on the Today programme this morning that the row showed the need for a completely independent police complaints system. He called for the return of the Police Ombudsman.
But Orde's remarks show little sign that the police understand that the principle of public trust is now on trial - a principle that goes back to the creation of the Metropolitan Police by Peel in 1829. This is a power struggle that the police cannot win. ·