We’re finally getting to the bottom of the ridiculous “Plebgate” saga that’s been rolling on for the past year and, as far as I can see, there’s only one positive that can be drawn from the whole dreadful affair: Andrew Mitchell has finally been vindicated and for that I am absolutely delighted. His treatment over the past twelve months is an indictment not only of the police (believe me, I’ll be coming to them momentarily) but also of the British press, who greedily leapt on the police account of the story and hounded the poor man and his family on the assumption of his certain guilt. Anyone who saw the CCTV videos of the incident would have known immediately that there was something more than a little fishy about the allegations. But that didn’t stop the gleeful headlines. One wonders whether anything will ever be learned from Leveson.
Regardless, that single positive is outweighed a thousand times over by the revelations about exactly what goes on in parts of our police force. For a start, there were blatant lies told, not only about the actual incident itself, but also – as it transpired – over Mr Mitchell’s comments in a later meeting with police federation representatives. This is a body that should hold honesty and integrity at the heart of everything it does, yet we’ve now seen the dark and ugly side of it when it’s challenged, as officers have lied, prevaricated and covered up. And what’s worse, it’s not just the rank and file. These are senior police officers who are involved. If that’s the culture among the seniors, one dreads to think how embedded it must be lower down.
But, of course, it’s not just the lying that’s so troubling. That in itself could be forgiven or overlooked if the force itself took matters in hand, disciplined those involved and made it clear that that sort of behaviour was an aberrance that won’t be tolerated. Instead, what we’ve actually seen is a closing of ranks around the officers in question. Unbelievably, West Mercia Police concluded, after their internal investigation, that there was no case to answer for misconduct. That, clearly, was utter rubbish and the Independent Police Complaints Commission has said as much, pointing out that the evidence actually points towards a politically-motivated, anti-cuts campaign being run by the officers to discredit the Government. It’s a disgrace.
Though I had hoped for more from the police force, I can’t say I was entirely surprised by their actual reaction. I’ve had personal experience of some of the insidious lengths the police can go to in protecting their own and discouraging outside interference. When I was a young agent in Kidderminster I was visited by a young man on the verge of tears. He’d recently come out of prison and told me that he was being pursued by the police to confess to crimes he said he had not committed. From what he told me I was concerned that it seemed to be a case of harassment, so I wrote to the Chief Constable on behalf of the local MP to make him aware of my concerns. Some weeks later my car was stopped, for no apparent reason, and checked. Everything was in order and I eventually drove away and thought no more of it. Until, that is, I was stopped again a few weeks later. And again, and again. In fact, this pattern continued on a regular basis until I sold the car a year later, when the stopping ceased. But, three months after I’d sold it, the new owner of the car phoned me to ask if there was something wrong with it. He told me he’d been stopped by the police three times, again for no clear reason. It was apparent that they’d had my number on their dashboards and it became clear that certain officers thought this young busybody needed to be taught a lesson. That was all quite some time ago, but the conduct of the police over Andrew Mitchell’s case has brought it back to the front of my mind. It’s worrying just how little seems to have changed.