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Tuesday, October 15, 2013 

Well, knock me down with a feather.

The thing that intrigues most about "Plebgate", as we seemingly have to call it, is if we're to believe Andrew Mitchell was "stitched up", just how quickly was this nefarious plot put together and then acted upon?  Was it really just a suggestion by an officer at the time as they went to record what had happened in the log, as the Sunday Times reports, and did it just consist of the addition of the word "pleb"?  Would those officers trusted with guarding Downing Street really be so quick to try and get one over on a cabinet minister, regardless of how he treated them?  And just how big a difference is there between Mitchell's version of events and those of the police?

I've always felt it was a big leap from the CCTV footage not tallying entirely with the log, and Mitchell telling the whole truth about what happened.  All that proved was the police exaggerated, which isn't the same as concocting the rest of the exchange beyond the agreed upon fact Mitchell said, as he cycled off, that he thought they "were meant to fucking help us", and that they hadn't "heard the last of this".  Where things truly get murky is when the Police Federation got involved, and as yet we still don't know when that was.  Was it as soon as the night the incident took place, or was it later with the leaking of the log to the Sun and Telegraph?

Today's statement from the Independent Police Complaints Commission on the separate meeting between Mitchell and three representatives of the Federation from the West Mercia, West Midlands and Warwickshire forces can't then be called surprising.  The PF, advised by of all people, the firm set-up by Jon Gaunt and his brother, had an agenda from as soon as the story broke.  It played into their hands; government minister insults police just as the cuts in funding were biting, as well as the day after two officers were shot dead in Manchester.

Their idea of the meeting with Mitchell wasn't to clear the air, it was an attempt to pin him down. Reading the transcript of the meeting, which Mitchell had the good sense to record, is painful. Mitchell prostrates before them, apologising again and again, even promising never to lose his temper again. The three aren't interested though, they're far more concerned that as Mitchell refuses to accept to reconcile his account with the log he's all but maintaining the officer is a liar.  It couldn't be that both are wrong, or both were mistaken, it's either black or white.

Having failed to get the response they wanted, they then misrepresented what had gone on to the TV cameras, a performance the West Mercia force decided wasn't a serious enough act of mendacity to warrant misconduct proceedings. The IPCC understandably disagrees, and the government has since voiced its support for their findings.

The problem is all this is a bit of a distraction. As contemptible as the PF's representatives were, and as remarkable as it is they felt they could act in such a way against a minister, it doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know: the police can't be trusted to investigate themselves, and the PF isn't averse to lying and slandering when attempting to get their own way.

As for what really happened that night, we're still in the dark. We continue to wait for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide what action, if any, to take against those who may have fabricated the exchange between the police and Mitchell. If it does turn out to have been the police that invented much of their log, then yes, it's apparent that certain officers do still think they can get away with almost anything, and if it could happen to Mitchell, it could to anyone. Again though, anyone with a healthy suspicion of authority in general, or indeed has followed the news over the last few years ought to be well aware that the police aren't always to be believed or trusted. Without prejudging anything, the evidence heard so far at the Mark Duggan inquest and the discrepancies between the witness and police accounts look to have the potential to be far more of a concern.

Moreover, if charges aren't forthcoming, or aren't against the officers who wrote up the log, where does that leave Mitchell and those who insisted this was a fit-up ever since Channel 4 obtained the Downing Street CCTV images?  Mitchell isn't going to get a ministerial position back, and the government's reforms of the police are going ahead in any case.  Vindication might mean a lot to Mitchell, but it seems unlikely to change anything else.  Why should it when far worse abuses have failed to?

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