Three police officers accused of giving misleading evidence over the “Plebgate” scandal will have to face a fresh inquiry and could also face contempt of parliament charges if they refuse to apologise to MPs.
Police Federation representatives Inspector Ken MacKaill, Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton and Sergeant Chris Jones were all told previously they would face no action for misconduct over press statements they made following a meeting with former chief whip Andrew Mitchell in the West Midlands in October last year.
The meeting was in response to an alleged foul-mouthed confrontation Mr Mitchell had with police in Downing Street the previous month where it was claimed he referred to officers as “plebs”.
But the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) yesterday announced it would hold its own investigation into the officers’ behaviour after finding “procedural irregularities” in the way the initial inquiry was dealt with.
Sgt Jones and Det Sgt Hinton have also been called to appear before the Commons home affairs select committee (HASC) for a second time tomorrow after being accused of giving “misleading” answers to MPs on 23 October. The committee wants the pair to “apologise for misleading it” or face disciplinary action.
The committee’s report said the officers’ evidence was “possibly deliberately” misleading, lacked credibility and was contradictory.
It also hit out at their refusal to apologise for the actions, given the effect it had on Mr Mitchell’s personal life and career. He resigned a month after the altercation took place at the Downing Street gates.
“If evidence was given in a similar manner by three serving police officers to a court of law it is our view that such testimony would undermine a case and lead a jury to reach an unfavourable conclusion as to the credibility of the evidence given by those police officers,” the report read.
It was also particularly critical of Det Sgt Hinton for referring to Home Secretary Theresa May as “that woman” before claiming he was misquoted in an apparent attempt to avoid disciplinary action.
“All evidence given to select committees should be provided honestly and not be affected by forethoughts of any future outcome,” it said.
HASC chairman Keith Vaz MP said the committee was “appalled” with the officers’ evidence. He believes the chief constables also played their part to damaged the reputations of the police officers, the Police Federation and the force itself by failing to redetermine their conclusions in the investigation and said it was now up to the IPCC to make an independent decision.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the committee’s “serious and troubling” report warranted an overhaul of police accountability standards.
The report also targeted three chief constables from Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands police, who were said to have shown “an absence of leadership” while their forces were embroiled in the affair.