New watchdog probe into "Plebgate" row police

Officers from the Midlands accused of giving misleading accounts of a meeting with former chief whip Andrew Mitchell are facing a new watchdog investigation, it has emerged.

Sergeant Chris Jones of the West Midlands Police Federation, Inspector Ken MacKaill of West Mercia Police Federation and Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton from Warwickshire Police Federation
Sergeant Chris Jones of the West Midlands Police Federation, Inspector Ken MacKaill of West Mercia Police Federation and Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton from Warwickshire Police Federation

They will also be hauled back before MPs to apologise for evidence they gave to an influential committee.

Police Federation representatives Sergeant Chris Jones, Inspector Ken MacKaill and Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton were all told they would face no action for misconduct over press statements they made following the meeting with Mr Mitchell in the West Midlands in October last year.

He spoke to the officers, who were representing West Midlands, West Mercia and Warwickshire police, in a bid to clear the air after a foul-mouthed confrontation with police in Downing Street the previous month.

Today, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it will hold its own investigation into their behaviour after finding 'procedural irregularities' in the way the inquiry was dealt with.

West Midlands Chief Constable Chris Sims said today any investigation into the matter 'should always have been run by the IPCC'.

Mr Jones and Mr Hinton have been also called to appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) for a second time on Tuesday, after being accused of giving 'misleading' answers when they gave evidence to MPs on October 23. The committee wants the pair 'to apologise for misleading it'.

The trio were told that they would face no disciplinary action after senior officers disagreed with Chief Inspector Jerry Reakes-Williams who found they had a case to answer for misconduct.

But IPCC deputy chairwoman Deborah Glass said there were 'procedural irregularities' in how a final report on the matter was drawn up.

She said: "Evidence given to the Home Affairs Select Committee on October 23 revealed a number of procedural irregularities between the production of the draft and final West Mercia reports.

"On August 12 2013, a final report was provided to the IPCC. It contained a single set of conclusions to the effect that no case to answer for misconduct was made out against any of the three officers under investigation.

"However, it is clear from CI Reakes-Williams's evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee that this conclusion did not reflect his opinion. His opinion was (and remains) that a case to answer for misconduct was made out. However, he mistakenly believed that his report should reflect the view of the 'appropriate authorities' - the senior officers in each of the forces involved.

"The 'appropriate authorities' are the final decision-making bodies, and they are entitled to reach a different decision to the conclusions of the investigator. However, this is an entirely separate process. The procedure described above has conflated the two."

Ms Glass, who gave evidence to the committee on the same day as the three officers, had told MPs she did not have the power to restart the investigation.

But today she said that because the final report did not include Mr Reakes-Williams's opinion, the investigation is incomplete.

"What is now clear is that the final report I received did not contain the opinion of the investigating officer, but instead erroneously recorded the view of the appropriate authorities," she said. "Therefore, for the purposes of the legislation, I consider that in fact there is no final report.

"Consequently, the investigation is not complete and the decision making function of the appropriate authorities concerning whether the officers have a case to answer for misconduct is not yet engaged; the decisions they have purported to reach are void."

She said the IPCC was launching its own inquiry to avoid damaging public confidence.

"I have determined that a change in the mode of investigation is justified as it would be in the public interest to do so, not least because the catalogue of fundamental procedural irregularities is capable of significantly undermining public confidence in the final outcome of the investigation.

"The only mode of investigation that would satisfy the public interest and maintain confidence in the police oversight regime is an independent one, carried out by the IPCC's own staff, and this is what will now take place."

No one involved in the original investigation will be involved in the new inquiry.

HASC chairman Keith Vaz said: "We were appalled by the evidence given by DS Hinton, Sgt Jones and Inspector MacKaill. It is now clear that DS Hinton and Sgt Jones misled the Committee, possibly deliberately. We have recalled them to correct the record and if they do not, they will be in prima facie contempt of Parliament.

"We are also concerned that the chief constables of Warwickshire and West Midlands have not redetermined their conclusions to this investigation. This matter has been hugely damaging to the public's perception of the reputation of the police officers involved, the Police Federation and the force itself.

"We have referred the police officers to the IPCC and we welcome their announcement to make a fully independent decision on this investigation which is what we asked them to consider. It is vital that the public see that where police officers make mistakes, they will be held to account. Only then will we be able to focus on the outstanding work done by our police forces.

"The narrative of what we have seen could rival any great work of fiction. At every point and at every level, instead of being transparent, we have uncovered a process that obstructs the truth. If this can happen to a Cabinet minister, what hope is there for anyone else?"

West Midlands Chief Constable Chris Sims, reacting to the Home Affairs Select Committee report, said: "The IPCC have now decided they do, after all, have the authority to launch a new inquiry. As I made clear at the very beginning of this process this investigation should always have been run by the IPCC.

"I am a supporter of independence within complaint investigations, as I made clear to the Home Affairs Select Committee.

"I have read the full committee report and I acknowledge its findings. However the report suggests West Midlands Police put pressure on West Mercia Police to release the report before it was sent to the IPCC. The conclusions of the report suggest the motive may have been because ACC Cann may have been seeking to improperly access the report and seek to change its conclusions. This is a serious inference to draw and I completely refute it. I have today written to Keith Vaz MP to ask him to look again at this erroneous conclusion as a matter of urgency."