Plebgate: Another view

There has been an absence of posts on this blog for some time. It looks as if readers are also noticeable by their absence too, showing just how any blog has to be driven by new posts, and a constant flow of ideas, or debate. This was always intended to be an ‘occasional’ blog, somewhere to vent a spleen, or to publish something that might be considered unpalatable, on a mainstream blog. It will undoubtedly remain like this, with posts cropping up dependent on thoughts, or issues of the day. Not that there has been any shortage of such things of late. Gagging Laws, Ian Duncan Smith, and Welfare Reform, have all generated fierce opinions, and associated debate, on many, if not most political blogs. Given my obvious affiliations, and frequently expressed political views, it has seemed almost pointless to join in the tirade against them. It is all too clear where I stand.

I did notice a story recently, that has given me the impetus to post once more. A Metropolitan Police officer is to sue  the former Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell, for libel. This is as a result of the so-called ‘Plebgate’ affair, which I am sure needs no explanation, at least to UK readers. In short, this senior politician (allegedly) called a police officer a ‘fucking pleb’, when the officer refused to allow him to use the main gates of Downing Street, to exit on his cycle, following procedure by doing so. Soon after, in a furore of press attention, the same politician was demoted from his role as Chief Whip, and made a public apology to the officer concerned. That should have been the end of it. If only.

The story has continued to swing back and forth for many months. Mitchell has since denied saying anything like the reported comments. Other Police officers have been dismissed, some charged with offences. During an investigation by an outside force, it was found that officers from the investigating team colluded in their stories, and failed to be completely honest, to say the least. The officer at the centre of this fiasco has been hounded by the Press, and others have spent time on suspension. Now, with the backing of his professional association, The Police Federation, the officer has been advised to sue for libel. The affair has been re-kindled, and the forthcoming court case will be dissected in detail by the media.

If anyone out there is genuinely still interested in what actually happened, I have a slightly privileged insight into the whole thing, and I will offer this version, of what I believe took place. Before I retired in 2012, I worked for this very department of the Metropolitan Police, the one charged with the protection of Downing Street, as well as of Embassies all over London, and the residences of many high-profile individuals; The Diplomatic Protection Group. I was not a Police Officer, but a member of the Civilian Staff, working as part of an operational team. This is part of the Specialist Operations area of the ‘Met’, with the officers carrying firearms, and performing static patrols, as well as responding to incidents in cars, and on motorcycles. It is a very large command, spread over various bases, operating over a 24 hour period, every day of the year. All the officers who work there are suitably experienced, well-trained, and self-motivated individuals. They have all applied to be there, and competition to join the group is evident. There are no ‘rookies’, and nobody is posted there against their will. The majority are in the older age range for police officers, and have extensive experience in other areas of policing, whether in London, or elsewhere. I make these points to illustrate that they are not excitable by nature, and tend to be solid, reliable individuals; career police officers, with much at stake.

On the evening in question, immediately after the incident, one of the officers contacted the control room, to ensure that an electronic message was recorded, stating the facts of what had just happened. He did this, as he believed that the confrontation would result in a complaint from either Mr Mitchell, or one of his staff, and he wanted to be sure that his version of events was recorded as soon, and as accurately, as possible. Both he, and his female colleague, are both sensible, mature and steady individuals, who have never been involved in this type of thing before. To the best of my knowledge, they only want to do their jobs, and complete their careers, to the best of their ability. I know them both well, and have spent many hours working alongside both of them. They have absolutely no political agenda, and are not the sort of people to seek undue attention, or to wish to cause distress to their families, or to taint the reputation of the Metropolitan Police.

Of course, officers will close ranks, in difficult situations. Everyone does, whether police, military, politicians, or families. It is human nature, instinctive, and understandable. There are times when this is not always beneficial, and this is one of those. Another officer, hearing of the Number Ten incident, decided to get involved. Although he was not on duty at the time, and nowhere near Downing Street, he used someone’s computer, to send an e mail of complaint against Mitchell. He declared that he was a ‘passing member of the public’, and that he had heard the exchange. He may well have thought he was helping the officers concerned. Perhaps he did not believe their version was completely accurate, and sought to ‘back up’ their statement, I don’t know. As a result of this stupid act, he was discovered, dismissed, and disgraced. Channel Four took up the story, using CCTV footage to prove that he was not outside the gates, at the times he said. He did no service to the officers, to himself, or to the Met. I am sure he now regrets it, as he languishes jobless somewhere.

This escalation caused Andrew Mitchell to again deny the substance of the allegation, and an outside force was brought in, to conduct an inquiry. Once more, some of those officers foolishly decided to close ranks, and to concoct a version of their interview with Mr Mitchell, which they have subsequently withdrawn. They have now muddied the waters for all concerned, and brought their own force into disrepute. The media once again resurrected the story, with the sympathy angle changing, to swing considerably in favour of Mitchell, and with allegations flying thick and fast against police officers in  two forces. The original Met police officer has now been left with no option but to sue Andrew Mitchell in open court, or face being branded a liar for the rest of his life.

I have no special axe to grind for the police anywhere. There are good and bad officers all over. Mistakes are made, bad things are done. Against this, is the unheard of catalogue of bravery, hard work, long hours, unsocial shifts, good deeds, satisfied people, and a city that is safer than almost any similar place in the world. I do have an issue with politicians, particularly Tory politicians. I wouldn’t believe one of them, if he or she told me the day of the week.  More importantly, I do not think that any of them would readily apologise for saying something that they did not say. This is my main reason for believing the officers concerned on that night, as well as knowing them personally. I just cannot contemplate that smug man admitting he said something that he didn’t. Not only that, he then recanted it all, at a much later date, and tried to portray himself, and his family as victims of police collusion. Officers who are there every day, with every chance of being killed, or seriously injured, to protect him, and others like him.

You will have your opinions, and might have made your decision about who you believe. The court case will be avidly watched, and extensively reported on. Details will emerge, individuals will be vilified, and ‘exposed’. Truths may be bent, and stories changed. However, I know who I believe, and nothing will change that for me.

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