THE head of the Metropolitan Police has apologised to former Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell, after a serving officer admitted lying about witnessing the “plebgate” row that led to his resignation from government.
Mr Mitchell, a former international development secretary and chief whip, welcomed PC Keith Wallis’s guilty plea at the Old Bailey to a charge of misconduct in public office, saying “justice has been done”.
Wallis’s plea led to calls for Mr Mitchell’s return to the government he quit in 2012 amid allegations he swore at police and called an officer a “pleb” when he was stopped from cycling out of Downing Street’s gates.
Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed Wallis’s guilty plea, saying it was “completely unacceptable” for police to falsify their account of an incident. But there was no mention in his brief statement, issued by No 10, of whether it will open the door for a return to ministerial office for Mr Mitchell.
The Met has faced intense pressure already this week, after the inquest into the death of Mark Duggan. Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said the force could have shown “better transparency” in its response to Duggan’s shooting, which sparked riots in England.
Wallis, 53, of West Drayton, west London, was charged after sending an e-mail to Conservative deputy chief whip John Randall, who was his MP, wrongly claiming he had seen what happened as Mr Mitchell left Downing Street on 19 September, 2012.
The then chief whip became involved in a heated confrontation with another police officer, Toby Rowland, after he was refused permission to cycle through the main gate.
The Sutton Coldfield MP later admitted swearing but denied PC Rowland’s claim that he used the word “pleb’’.
Yesterday, Mr Mitchell said: “I am pleased that justice has been done in a criminal court today.
“It is very sad and worrying for all of us that a serving police officer should have behaved in this way. There remain many questions unanswered – in particular why PC Wallis wrote this e-mail and who else was involved in this process.”
Mr Cameron said: “It is completely unacceptable for a serving police officer to falsify an account of any incident. Andrew Mitchell has consistently denied the version of events presented in the e-mail and I welcome the fact that the officer concerned has now pleaded guilty.”
Met commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said Wallis’s behaviour had fallen “way below the standards expected” of his officers.
He went on: “This investigation has been a ruthless search for the truth as, at the heart of this, are extremely damaging allegations that officers have lied and falsified statements against a Cabinet minister.
“The evidence against PC Wallis was such that he has entered a guilty plea. To lie about witnessing something and provide a false account falls way below the standards that I and PC Wallis’s colleagues expect of police officers. His actions have also negatively impacted upon public trust and confidence in the integrity of police officers.
“I would also like to apologise to Mr Mitchell that an MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] officer clearly lied about seeing him behaving in a certain manner. I will be writing to him offering to meet and apologise in person.”
Wallis, who was with the Met’s diplomatic protection group, stood in the dock and spoke only to confirm his name and that he understood the charge before entering his guilty plea. The court heard he had admitted the offence in a police interview and offered to resign.
Mr Justice Sweeney adjourned sentencing until 6 February for psychiatric reports. He released Wallis on unconditional bail but warned him that “all sentencing options remain open to the court”.
Following reports of the plebgate incident, Mr Mitchell apologised for being disrespectful to police but denied using the words attributed to him.
However, his apology was not enough to prevent members of the Police Federation of England and Wales protesting at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in T-shirts bearing the slogan “PC Pleb and Proud”.
After meeting the MP in Sutton Coldfield, the federation’s Inspector Ken MacKaill said Mr Mitchell had “no option but to resign”, while Labour leader Ed Miliband described him as “toast” in the House of Commons and Mr Cameron himself said his chief whip had been wrong to use the words he did.
The unrelenting pressure eventually led Mr Mitchell to offer his resignation on 19 October, a month after the initial altercation.
PC Rowland is suing Mr Mitchell by over comments he made following the incident.
Meanwhile, the Met has revealed that another four officers are facing gross misconduct hearings later this year relating to the “improper disclosure of information”.