IPCC says allegations are complex after former director of public prosecutions criticises ‘outrageous’ delay.
The police watchdog has said it is satisfied all that can be done to conclude the Metropolitan police investigation into the so-called “plebgate” affair is being done.
Deborah Glass, the deputy chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, was responding to stinging criticism from Lord Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions (DPP), over the length of time the Metropolitan police is taking to conclude its inquiry.
Macdonald wrote that the delay was “quite outrageous” and added that if it was proved officers lied over the then chief whip Andrew Mitchell using the word pleb that “the missile is heading straight for the heart of the Metropolitan police”.
Glass released a statement a few hours later insisting the IPCC was “intrusively supervising” the Met police inquiry. She said while she shared the concerns of others that the investigation was taking far longer than originally anticipated the allegations of a conspiracy were by their nature very complex.
Speaking just over a year after Mitchell and two police officers from the diplomatic protection squad clashed outside Downing Street in an incident that led to his resignation, Glass said: “This police investigation … has been provided with new information over the last few months, and as a result further lines of inquiry are being followed.
“While the incident which sparked this investigation is on the face of it simple – it took less than a minute to unfold – what has evolved are allegations of a conspiracy which by its very nature is complex.
“I am personally reviewing the evidence and I am satisfied that all that can be done to conclude the investigation is being done and that Mr Mitchell is kept informed.”
Macdonald, writing in the Times, however, said there was no excuse for the delay, given the consequences of the 45-second incident, which resulted in Mitchell resigning as the government’s chief whip after he was accused of swearing at police officers and calling them plebs in September last year.
Mitchell admitted losing his temper and swearing but denied using the word plebs, which was included in a police log of the incident that was leaked to the media.
“We are talking here about the resignation of a British cabinet minister, a resignation forced upon him at the height of his career by police allegations that are now seriously called into question,” said Macdonald.
“An expeditious and thorough investigation should have been perfectly possible … It seems quite outrageous that, in the face of the simplicity of the allegations and this significant commitment of public resources, the investigation rambles on, with no apparent end in sight.”
Macdonald, who was DPP from 2003 to 2008, also castigates the Met commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, as “plain foolish” for maintaining that he believed his officers were telling the truth at the same time as he announced the investigation.
The controversy arose after Mitchell tried to ride his bicycle through the gates in Downing Street and was asked to dismount by the two officers on duty. His alleged use of the word plebs, which he vehemently denied, saw him vilified and he resigned a month later.
But CCTV footage was subsequently broadcast, casting doubt on the original account of what happened. Additionally, an email account of the incident purportedly sent by a member of the public who had witnessed it turned out to have been sent by a Met officer who was not present.
Thirty detectives have taken statements from all 800 officers in the diplomatic protection group as part of Operation Alice, which has already cost close to £200,000.
Nine Met police officers are under investigation for criminal and/or misconduct issues in relation to the incident. Four civilians are also being investigated.
The Crown Prosecution Service is considering charges. Glass said the Met police and the IPCC would await the CPS decision before considering misconduct charges against any of the officers.
In a separate investigation West Mercia police, supervised by the IPCC, is investigating whether the chairmen of the three police federations gave a false account of their meeting with Mitchell in October last year in an attempt to discredit him. Glass said the IPCC had questioned the findings of the police inquiry, which concluded last month.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan police said: “This investigation is examining very serious allegations that go to the heart of the public’s trust in the police service. The MPS is conducting a thorough investigation that aims to establish the truth of what has taken place and find the best possible evidence.
“An initial file was passed to the CPS in March 2013. However, since that time three separate pieces of information have been given to us. As a result further inquiries have had to be made.”