Three police officers caught up in the wake of the “Plebgate” row have refused to apologise for accounts they gave of a meeting with former chief whip Andrew Mitchell, despite looming disciplinary action.
Police Federation representatives Inspector Ken MacKaill, Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton and Sergeant Chris Jones appeared before MPs on Wednesday and would apologise only for their haste in speaking to the media straight after the meeting in October last year.
They told journalists that former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell had refused to tell them exactly what he said during a foul-mouthed confrontation with officers in Downing Street the previous month.
But the three were later accused of giving a misleading account of the 45-minute meeting, which was recorded by the politician.
Mr Mitchell met the three officers in his Sutton Coldfield constituency office on 12 October last year, after he was accused of calling police at Downing Street “plebs” in a foul-mouthed rant as he was asked to cycle through a side gate on 19 September. The Tory MP said he wanted to meet Mr MacKaill, Mr Hinton and Mr Jones to “clear the air”.
A secret recording made by Mr Mitchell shows he apologised for swearing at the police officers but denied using the word “plebs”, but in comments made after the meeting, Mr MacKaill claimed the MP had refused to provide an account of the incident.
Today, Mr Hinton told the home affairs select committee: “We showed poor judgment in speaking to the media immediately following the meeting with Mr Mitchell. I think we are all happy to take the criticism on the chin for that.
“What we should have done is given ourselves an opportunity to debrief the meeting.”
He added: “We certainly didn’t lie intentionally.”
Sgt Jones said he did not believe that they had done anything wrong, while Mr MacKaill stood by the initial account of what happened in the meeting.
But the chief constables of the men’s three forces – Warwickshire, West Mercia and the West Midlands – have all apologised to Mr Mitchell.
The decision not to press ahead with misconduct charges was challenged by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which said there were issues of “honesty and integrity” among the three Police Federation representatives.
Chief Inspector Jerry Reakes-Williams, who conducted the internal investigation, told MPs he still believes the officers had a case to answer over accounts they gave of the meeting.
Mr Reakes-Williams, who deals with professional standards for Warwickshire and West Mercia police, told MPs: “My view is that, taken as a whole, the comments made by the federation representatives did have the impact of misleading the public as to what happened in that meeting.”
But he said for a charge of gross misconduct – which carries the possible sanction of dismissal – he would have to have been sure that the officers had the “premeditated” intention of lying about Mr Mitchell.