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Mitchell 'deserves plebgate apology'

Source BBC News@

Andrew MitchellAndrew Mitchell resigned as chief whip over the "plebgate" row

The head of the Association of Chief Police Officers has said three officers accused of giving a misleading account of a meeting with ex-cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell should apologise.

Sir Hugh Orde said their conduct had fallen "below that required".

The officers, who appeared before MPs last week, said they stood by their "accurate" account of the meeting.

They held talks with Mr Mitchell after he was accused of calling police "plebs" in a row in Downing Street.

No action was taken against Sgt Chris Jones, of West Midlands Police, Insp Ken MacKaill, of West Mercia Police, and Det Sgt Stuart Hinton, of Warwickshire Police, following an internal review by the forces concerned into their conduct.

'Stark facts'

The "plebgate" row has been going on since Mr Mitchell, then chief whip, was accused last September of calling officers "plebs" after they refused to let him ride his bicycle through the Downing Street's main gates.

Three weeks after the original incident, Mr Mitchell met the officers acting for the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file police.

In a briefing immediately after the meeting, the officers told journalists that Mr Mitchell had refused to elaborate on what he had or had not said during the original incident. They said the minister should resign, which he later did.

But Mr Mitchell insists a transcript of the meeting, which he secretly recorded, shows that he apologised for swearing and expressly denied that he had used the word "pleb".

The three officers told the Home Affairs Select Committee last Wednesday that there had been no conspiracy to unseat Mr Mitchell and they had given an "accurate" account of proceedings.

But, facing the same MPs, the chief constables of West Midlands, Warwickshire and West Mercia voiced their regrets over the incident.

Sir Hugh told BBC's The Andrew Marr Show: "The stark facts are the three officers should have apologised in the same manner and style as the chief constables did."

'Public trust'

He added: "Whatever else is discussed, what was found in that case was that the officers' standards of conduct fell below that required. And on that analysis alone they should have said they were sorry."

He said of the select committee hearing: "It was not a good day for policing."

Sir Hugh said the Independent Police Complaints Commission - rather than serving officers - should have conducted the investigation into the original allegations against Mr Mitchell.

This would help restore "public trust", he added.

Sir Hugh recommended the procedure in place in Northern Ireland, where all complaints against police went before an ombudsman, could be used in England as it was "a very effective system".

At the time of the October 2012 meeting between Mr Mitchell and the three officers, the Police Federation was involved in a dispute with the government over changes to police pay and employment conditions.

Mr Mitchell's supporters have accused the body of pursuing a political agenda and called for root-and-branch changes to guarantee police accountability.

Eight people, including five police officers, have been arrested and bailed over the original altercation at the security gates to Downing Street amid claims that details of the incident were falsified.

The Crown Prosecution Service is currently considering charges.

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