If you have pitchforks and flaming torches, they’ll come in handy. It’s not obvious where Plebgate is going to lead. If this is the level of integrity in the police, there’ll be a Royal Commission at the end of it.
Keith Vaz’s committee has quite excelled itself in arraigning the officers at the sharp end of the Plebgate scandal.
They haven’t been condemned but in the unusual words of the Chair “we have found your evidence unsatisfactory”. In English – “We think you’re lying through your teeth which is why you cover your mouth with your hands, why your mouths are dry, why you mumble furtively, why you want to talk about hindsight and your state of mind at the time, and you keep saying, “Can you repeat the question?”
Nicola Blackwood repeated hers four times and answer came there none. She recapped one version of the position.
The three police officers were talking to Andrew Mitchell. They accepted his apology. They admired his candour. They said that the next development would be an investigation by the Met into the conduct of the Downing St officers who’d traduced him. And then they called a halt to the meeting without ever going on to the reason they’d asked for it.
Then they went outside and called for his resignation. Could anyone explain? Anyone?
The response was, eventually: “Could you repeat the question?”
Even more eventually, an answer began, “The account in the Telegraph – “
“That’s not what I’m asking you!” Ms Blackwood has a slow pulse but she was almost indignant. “I’m asking why you went out and gave a completely different account of what had happened in the meeting?”
Vaz poked the three no-evil monkeys before them. “Can someone give her an answer!”
Chris Jones (the brawn) started, “From my state of mind at the time I’m not sure that was my position.” But the committe had already run out of patience.
They recounted how the three officers – Stuart Hinton (lackey) and Ken MacKaill (the brains) had called for a meeting with their MP in order “to clear the air” and to register their concerns about police cuts. Also that they had hired a PR adviser to advise them. And that they had instructed the PR adviser not to reveal the location of the meeting to the media. The PR had tweeted earlier “Andrew Mitchell’s fate will be decided when he meets three Mercian officers”. And he was receiving calls from the media in the car on the way to the meeting. And the meeting stopped at 5.45 without the main agenda being addressed, and the officers went out to tell the media in time for the 6 o’clock news that the Government chief whip had given an unsatisfactory account of events and should resign.
It is an impressive experience watching policemen struggle under this sort of questioning. Normally I argue for counsel to do this for committees – in this case they acquitted themselves with elan. James Clappison, Lorraine Fullbrooke, Chris Ruane and David Winnick all should be mentioned but even the internet hasn’t room.
Mark Reckless determined they weren’t just police officers they were Police Federation officials. Pilgrims. Union activists. They had been waging a personalised campaign at such a level as to cause the head of the Federation to tell them to desist.
As an indication of their reliability, Vaz asked who the “this woman” was, in a transcript of their campaign conversation. A disparaging reference to an important part of their over-personal campaign against the cuts.
“It’s a typo,” Stuart Hinton said. That’s worth remembering whenever the police want to draw a distinction between “misleading”, “intentionally misleading” and “lying like flatfish”.
Then, the transcript was inaccurate. “I don’t remember saying that.”
And when Vaz said it was clearly referring to the Home Secretary, Hinton said, “No.” That’s bravura!
Michael Ellis suggested they had been “spinning a yarn to get someone out of high public office.”
Jones answered with another question, “What was my state of mind at the time? I had no intention to deceive.”
And “there was no conspiracy to unseat Mr Mitchell.”
Ellis went through the media advisor, and their journey to the meeting, and the calls from the media. “You thought collectively you could bring down a member of the Government.”
One of them – it could have been any of them – said, “I absolutely refute that.” (He meant “reject”.)
They still maintain, against all and any odds, they were innocent of revealing the address of the meeting to the media. They didn’t know there’d be media there until the calls in the car.
And (from Julian Huppert, neatly deduced) the media plan was only drawn up in the car.
It was, in the old-fashioned phrase a farrago. Their apology to Mitchell was especially loathsome. Ken MacKaill said, “Andrew Mitchell’s casual dismissal of police integrity” justified their actions.
And so they apologised to their colleagues and to the public for “poor judgement” in speaking to the media without thinking about it in a more considered way.
Vaz put it: “It was the choreography you were apologising for rather than what you said.” They agreed. “We did not lie” tiny pause “intentionally.”
The truth can be glimpsed, by mistake.
Now, back at the top of the hearing, the Investigating Officer Jerry Reakes-Williams seemed to emerge relatively unscathed – but it may not last. He had prepared a report on the three officers recommending a misconduct hearing.
He said the Independent Police Complaints Commission had told him to remove the conclusions and send the report to the Chief constables concerned. The IPCC in the form of Deborah Glass – up next – flatly denied this. She was amazed at what she saw in the report. Far from a recommendation for an investigation of gross misconduct (sackable), or even misconduct, the report’s conclusion was “no case to answer”. And that had been appended by the Appropriate Authority – the chief constables who came up last.
If they are the men running those police forces – God help the Midlands.
So, polish up your pitchforks, there’ll be more and more of this in the weeks ahead.