This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Angels dancing on a bicycle

I am not a little cautious about writing this blog, but I simply cannot resist making a statement or two about so called #Plebgate. After all, nearly everyone else seems to be!

Unless it is suddenly discovered that the CCTV cameras at the entrance to Downing Street have microphones after all, we will probably never know exactly what words were exchanged on that fateful night. However, at the moment, I think we are none the wiser. Perhaps we will know more when the Met Police investigation finally reports. (Why is it taking so long to investigate at most a few minutes of conversation at what must be one of the most observed locations in the country...? Would lip readers help?)

Anyway, I thought it might be helpful to set down a few facts (as I see them) about recent discussions concerning the meeting between Andrew Mitchell and representatives of the Police Federation from West Mercia, West Midlands and Warwickshire.

First here is my transcript of what Ken Mackaill said to the press following the meeting that he and reps from West Midlands and Warwickshire had just had with Andrew Mitchell. (I have done my best to get it down word for word):

KM: Whilst he has repeated, to use his words, his profound apology’ with feeling for what he did say, he has also repeated his denial using many of the words reported in the officers’ notes recorded at the time. Um… his explanation for that is that he did not want to, to quote, ‘get into a firefight’ with the police or impugn the integrity of police officers (who are [?inaudible]) unfortunately left in the position where, er… his continued denial of facts recorded in police records does exactly that, so we are no further forward than we were an hour ago.

Journalist: Should he resign? 

KM: I think Mr Mitchell now has no option but to resign. He is continuing to refuse to elaborate on what happened. Um… I think his position is untenable. 

He may well have said more, but this is all that is up on this BBC website that I have seen.

The question being debated now is whether Mr Mackaill gave a false or misleading representation of the meeting that he and his colleagues had just had. (The BBC website link above gives the background on this, including views from the IPCC and this morning the West Midlands PCC released a statement, accessible here.)

In summary, having read the transcript of the meeting I do not see any incompatibility between Mr Mackaill's statement and what ground the meeting covered. (Tell me where you can if you disagree, of course.)

From that transcript we know what Mr Mitchell says he did not say and what words he did not use... However this is how the meeting (more or less) opened (with my added bold):

WARKS: So really the first question we have got to ask because that is why (inaudible) and this is also why this has gone on so long is because you haven’t been able to say what you actually did say and I think we would all like you to tell us what you did say.

AM: It is a very good point and I’ll tell you why I haven’t done that is because the police account was filtered through a very hostile national newspaper and the police have made no complaint and my apology was accepted and that I felt should draw a line under all of this because my memory of what I did and didn’t say is clear and I will not as a supporter of the police for twenty six years be put in a position of suggesting an officer is not telling the truth but equally I did not say and I give you my word, I give you my word, I did not call an officer an f’ing pleb I did not say you are an f’ing moron and I did not say you should know your f’ing place I would never speak to anyone like that least of all a police officer and you have my word I never said those things.

So, Mr Mitchell says what he did not say, and repeats this (for the record, perhaps, on several other occasions). But he does not answer the question posed to him, in my opinion.

Later on AM does say:

The incident was very brief I complied with the officer and I picked up my bicycle but I did say under my breath but audibly, in frustration, I thought you lot were supposed to f***ing help us and it is for that I apologise and I am grateful to that officer for accepting my apology and I should never have said it and I will never do it again

I am happy to be corrected but that is all he says about what he positively said in the 40 or so seconds that his approach to the gate took. It takes about 4 seconds to make that statement. What else was said? We do not know other than what the officers (we believe) put in their notebooks.

Elsewhere in the transcript Mr Mitchell says:

AM: With respect I haven’t told you anything I haven’t said before I hadn't said to you

and later on:

WARKS: What you have said to us is that the words you said you do not attribute, which is a lot different to you saying in my eyes what I said is different

AM: No it is the first time you heard me say it, in the reporting it is always clear that I have made it clear that I never used those words and in particular pleb and moron so I have not said anything new today but I have done you, because you are the leaders of the Fed in your three areas, the fair thing which is look you in the eye and tell you the truth there is nothing new or different I have said today there is no point in rehashing but I have said very little which is new today, I mean there is little point re hashing it but I have explained why I took the view, and it is frustrating.

[Again my added bold]

And to repeat again. Ken Mackaill concurred with that view when he said "we are no further forward than we were an hour ago"

So what is this really all about? Here are my theories:

1) Andrew Mitchell is a very competent and experienced politician, and some powerful friends (such as David Davies) want him back from the cold. I suspect that this is part of some big ducks being lined up in advance of replacing Mr Cameron as leader, should he lose the next election. (Or perhaps even before...?!)

2) Mr Cameron wants him back and this is all part of Mr Mitchell's journey back to power.

3) The Government have got wind of the results of the Met investigation which is going to fudge the whole issue and give a metaphorical shoulder shrug to the affair. So the Government wants to get some blood at least from Police Federation by going after the scalps of the three Fed officials from the meeting in question.

But really I don't know.... do you?

But I will give up now, lunch calls, and my geeky ocd obsession with the truth will have to be put back in the box where I try to keep it most of the time.


UPDATE 1951 / 17 October: PCC Bob Jones has now published his letter of 'concern' to IPCC Chief, Dame Anne Owers. You can read it here.

UPDATE 0737 / 18 October: Just clocked this report/statement from IPCC Deputy Chair Deborah Glass is available on the net too. No time to set down my analysis, but I would argue this is just grabbing at straws and her case does not hold water... in my opinion. But read it yourself and let me know what you think...

UPDATE 1853 / 18 October: Thanks to @IanBrealey, here is an extract from Channel 4 News yesterday which features more footage of the original press briefing post Fed/Andrew Mitchell meeting and a later interview with Ken Machaill. Worth watching. But again nothing in this that justifies him or the other Fed reps being had up for misconduct in my view.

UPDATE 1044 / 20 October: Not really an update, but here is a link to a contemporaneous report in the Telegraph of how the events unfolded from the fateful night. (Other useful Telegraph links here too: In full: Police log detailing Andrew Mitchell's 'pleb' rantDavid Cameron: no need to investigate Andrew Mitchell's four-letter police rant. (Thanks to @ianbrealey for pointing me in these directions - via Twitter)

UPDATE 1151 / 20 October: Due thanks to @ianbrealey again for pointing me towards this blog post near the time which forensically analyses the CCTV footage of the fateful night. I am not planning to get into the debate about the original incident (as I have said now on many occasions, let's wait for the Met Police investigation report). But this blog is illuminating in my opinion.

UPDATE 1227 / 20 October: Today's story in the Mail on Sunday claims to have established that (among other things) that DCC Chesterman of West Mercia 'blocked the disciplinary action' against officers involved in the meeting that was in the first version of the report prepared by Inspector Jeremy Reakes-Williams of West Mercia.

The piece also says that "separately, this newspaper has established that Met chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe ordered Greater Manchester Police to conduct a review into its initial handling of Plebgate. The probe was completed in June, but Scotland Yard has refused to make it public even though Sir Bernard said the review was ordered to create ‘more openness’" [my added bold]

UPDATE 1449 / 20 October: You may wish to listen to this audio recording of statement from Simon Chesterman, just highlighted for me by @markdpryan

We have not heard the last of all this yet...

14 comments:

  1. I was beginning to think that I had missed something and that Mr Mitchell had actually given an account of the words he did say. However having read the transcript he did not expand on any previously known information and that is the point the Fed Rep was making. I am glad that I am not the only one to think this.

    There is another agenda at work here and we will have to wait to see how this pans out once we have some insight into the outcome of the investigation into the officers at present at the time and from what the 3 Chief Constables have to say next week.

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  2. The mind-bending that the left are doing here to defend their leader (let's be clear it'll be Ed Miliband who gets it in the neck along with his sidekick Cooper if it goes as I expect it will go) is amazing. Perhaps you could answer two questions: 1. You cannot convict someone on what you think they `might have said` instead of what they say they said - it's even more difficult to get the public's support for that theory if the police say a contradictory statement to what was said in the meeting 2. Perhaps your tortuous logic would have more weight if that same CCTV showed that the police lied about witnesses to the incident and then it transpires that an email sent to Cameron was sent by a policeman. I'm not of the right but I can well understand AM who is being loyal to the Police as a whole (ie the local police he has to do deal with on crime issues in Sutton Coldfield). Let's be clear what this REALLY is about - it's about the fact that Labour jumped on a bandwagon that neatly fitted their narrative a year ago which is falling flat on its face - and that Ed Miliband himself will have to offer very humble pie in the Commons. Who knows what communication was going on between Labour and the PF at the time?

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    1. To answer your questions:

      1) That is not a question. But I agree, let's wait until the full Met report is out before coming to view on what actually happened that fateful night in Downing street.

      2) Again not a question but see my point above - let's wait for the full report. There are many question marks about the conduct of all involved, I agree. I hope we get the answers.

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  3. Are you employed by the police?

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    1. No. I have my own company: Jon Harvey Associates Ltd

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  4. Jon,

    Thank you for this comment.

    I noted what the West Midlands PCC, Bob Jones, kept saying this week when interviewed - 'there was insufficient evidence' and 'upon legal advice'. Now add in the fact that Andrew Mitchell, MP, has not made a complaint about the Sutton Coldfield meeting. He or his office handed over the covert tape recording, it is likely that no statement regarding the origin of the tape and continuity before being handed over was made. No tape, no evidence.

    It was very clear earlier this week, especially the comments made at the Home Affairs Select Committee, followed by the Home Secretary - that many inside the Westminster "bubble" are incensed about what happened @ Plebgate and @ Sutton Coldfield.

    Much has been made of how this has damaged public trust in the police, which I accept is likely.

    How do politicians fare in polling when asked 'How much do you trust the following to tell the truth?' Yougov polling helps, albeit from November 2012:

    Local police officers on the beat in my area 69%
    Senior police officers 49%
    My local MP 37%

    See: http://cdn.yougov.com/cumulus_uploads/document/syrhatyofp/Trust_trends_Nov_2012.pdf

    Somehow I doubt if any of the three Chief Constables, let alone HASC members, will refer to this on Wednesday. A pity.

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    1. I do find it curious that a Governing party would appear to wish to do so much to damage the reputation of such a high profile & valuable public profession as the police. But there again they have been doing that for years with teachers. So plus ca change I guess....

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  5. Does anyone understand why the three police federation officers do not have a case to answer?

    Did you or anyone take the time to understand what Bob Jones said?

    Please read this it is very important you understand this point. The reason why the three police federation officers do not have a case to answer is because of the on going criminal action against the actual Plebgate actors. This impeding legal action, according to Police lawyers, means that there is no case to answer at present. Therefore the officers are acquitted on a technicality.

    Bob Jones and senior police officers believe the three police federation officers, should have apologised and do have a case to answer.

    Please take the time to understand that it is LEGAL ADVICE which prevents this particular boil from being lanced

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    1. That is not how I read things.

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  6. It seems you are not really highlighting what happened, but more interested in supporting the Police RE:


    No time to set down my analysis, but I would argue this is just grabbing at straws and her case does not hold water... in my opinion. But read it yourself and let me know what you think...

    Do you even know how to objectively look at something? It does you and your profession a great disservice to play politics with the truth. I say play the ball - not the man.

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  7. My profession? What truth am I missing. I am open to your analysis. I have looked at the transcript of the meeting & what was said afterwards and I see no incompatibility. In your view, what am I overlooking?

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  8. Anonymous20/10/13 21:16 - back again replying to Jon Harvey

    But surely its not about how you see it, not is it about how I see it. I am just stating the actual judgement of why they had no case to answer.

    It is very strange that you are given the reason for the judgement, yet you reject it out of hand.

    Again, this is the actual judgement. You can agree or disagree, but yon cannot say it is not the judgement. Possibly I have assumed that you do have a basic knowledge of law and legal terminology, but I can only apologise if I have overestimated your capabilities.

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  9. Anonymous20/10/13 21:47 - I would 100% agree with you

    There is politics and there is right and wrong. To me Jon Harvey is actually trying to defend the indefensible. He seems to start with the same two premises as the 3 Fed officers had that, 1)Police never ever lie and 2)Andrew Mitchell is a rabid lying dog.

    I do know the difference between right and wrong and politics, but in my opinion, some people think that Tories deserve all they get. I love politics and believe most politicians are honourable. I may not agree with their politics but I respect the profession and tradecraft

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    1. You are putting words into my mouth. I have repeatedly said that if the investigation into the original event shows that police officers lied in the notebooks then they deserve to be disciplined accordingly. I certainly do not think that Mr Mitchell is a 'rabid lying dog'!

      As a politician I also believe most politicians are honourable - as indeed are most police officers!

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