Overview of Metropolitan Police Service investigation into conduct of police officers connected to Downing Street incident on 19 September 2012
Statement from Deborah Glass, IPCC Commissioner:
At the heart of this case is not only the question of what actually happened during a very short altercation between the then Government Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell and a police officer near the gates of Downing Street on 19 September 2012, but also whether that incident led to a conspiracy by police officers to bring down a Cabinet Minister. Alleged details of the altercation, described as the ‘police log’, which appeared in The Sun on 21 September and The Daily Telegraph on 24 September, eventually resulted in Mr Mitchell’s resignation on 19 October 2012.
On 13 December 2012 the Cabinet Office provided the Metropolitan Police with emails between a Keith Wallis and his MP, and CCTV from Downing Street. On 15 December the MPS Professional Standards Directorate identified Keith Wallis as a serving police officer. He was arrested that evening for misconduct in a public office.
This led to an investigation, supervised by the IPCC, to investigate:
- Mr Mitchell’s allegations that police lied in the ‘log’ of 19 September 2012;
- the ‘leak’ to The Sun and the Daily Telegraph;
- the police officer’s claim to have witnessed the incident; and
- any evidence of a conspiracy between this officer and any other person.
The altercation on 19 September 2012
Some facts are not in dispute. Four police officers, members of the Metropolitan Police Diplomatic Protection Group, were on duty outside Downing Street at about 7.35 pm when the incident happened. Mr Mitchell cycled up to the inside of the Downing Street gates and asked to leave through the main gates. His request was refused by two of the officers, who told him he had to use the side gate. Mr Mitchell got off the bike and began wheeling it to the pedestrian entrance, accompanied by one of the officers.
It is at this point that one key fact is in dispute – the language used by Mr Mitchell. As I stated on 26 November 2013, I do not think it is possible to establish exactly what was said during the initial altercation. Only Mr Mitchell and the gate officer can give direct evidence, which is conflicting, and the independent evidence, including the CCTV, is inconclusive. Of the three potential witnesses who can be seen on the CCTV, despite the massive publicity given to this incident, no-one has come forward.
The consequences of the altercation
The gate officer said in interview: “As far as I’m concerned the incident was finished when he got his Public Order warning… It should only ever have been a discussion between the Police Service and the House about future behaviour.”
But that is not what happened.
Although this was widely reported later, the gate officer himself does not suggest either that Mr Mitchell was shouting or that there was a crowd of people around. After he returned to base that evening he sent an email at 9.22 pm with his account – later leaked and published by the Daily Telegraph as the ‘police log’ - to four supervisory officers, with a copy to two colleagues. It is clear from the stories that began to circulate within the Diplomatic Protection Group that the original incident quickly turned into ‘a load of abuse’ being directed at a police officer by a member of the Government only the day after two police officers in Manchester had lost their lives in the course of duty.
An account of the incident reached Downing Street that evening via the Head of Security in the Prime Minister’s Office, who had been contacted by the Downing Street Liaison Sergeant. When asked about it the following day Mr Mitchell disputed the language but accepted that something had happened for which he should apologise, which he did in a phone call to the gate officer on the morning of 21 September.
The result of the inflamed office gossip, however, was that three other officers from the Diplomatic Protection Group decided directly or indirectly to contact the press. There is evidence that a second officer, who was not involved in the original incident but was present at the DPG base on the evening of 19 September, contacted The Sun that evening. His first contact was before the gate officer had sent his email. He later provided The Sun with a photograph of the gate officer’s email, which was sent to him by a third officer, who had been on duty at Downing Street and had been copied in on the email. The second officer made a statement in December 2012 that he had had no contact with the press about the incident, which is contradicted by evidence obtained from his phone.
The third officer had been copied directly on the gate officer’s email. She took a photograph of it on her personal phone and sent it to the second officer. She made a statement in December 2012 stating that the copies of the email had stayed in her possession and no-one else had access to them. This is contradicted by evidence obtained from her phone.
A fourth officer heard of the incident from another officer on duty on the evening of 19 September. There is no evidence that this officer saw the gate officer’s email. Telephone data shows contact between the fourth officer and the other officer, who called, he says, to obtain the phone number for the Downing Street Liaison Sergeant and “would have told [ ] what happened”. This was around 8 pm. There is telephone data evidence linking a call to The Sun on the morning of 20 September with a person connected to the fourth officer. There is evidence in court papers from The Sun that a woman contacted them on the morning of 20 September claiming to be a tourist who heard Mr Mitchell call police officers “f***ing morons”. This language does not come from the gate officer’s account. Both the fourth officer and the other person deny any contact with The Sun.
PC Wallis was neither present during the incident, back at base, nor on duty on 19 September. There is, however, evidence of telephone contact between him and the fourth officer. PC Wallis wrote to his MP (coincidentally, the Deputy Chief Whip John Randall) the following evening claiming to be a witness. He wrote this email from his private email address, claiming to have been sightseeing near Downing Street with his nephew, when he saw someone he recognized as Andrew Mitchell at the main gates. He says he heard Mr Mitchell shout very loudly at the police officers “You f***ing plebes” and “You think you run the f***ing country” as well as other obscenities. At no time in this email or during any subsequent contact with Mr Randall does PC Wallis mention that he is a police officer.
There is no evidence that PC Wallis saw the gate officer’s email and PC Wallis’s version is somewhat different, including that Mr Mitchell was “continuing to shout obscenities” and that other people were “inadvertently filming the incident” which was plainly not in the gate officer’s original email. PC Wallis has admitted that he lied about witnessing the incident. There is also evidence that a fifth officer, who did not have contact with the press, lied in the statement he provided to this investigation about his contact with PC Wallis.
The Sun published a front-page story on 21 September which included that “Andrew Mitchell yelled four-letter abuse”, “exploded with fury” and “branded [the police] morons”, none of which appears in the gate officer’s email. The Daily Telegraph then published the so-called ‘police log’ on 24 September. This was in fact a verbatim account of the gate officer’s email with some names redacted.
A local region of the Police Federation began its “PC Pleb” campaign two days later, appearing outside Mr Mitchell’s Sutton Coldfield constituency in “PC Pleb” T-shirts, and similarly attired at the Conservative Party conference on 9 October.
Mr Mitchell then met local Police Federation representatives at his constituency office on 12 October (which is the subject of a separate investigation that those officers lied about the meeting) and the continued media and political storm culminated in his resignation as Chief Whip on 19 October.
The investigation that began in December 2012 was carried out by the Directorate of Professional Standards of the Metropolitan Police Service, under the overall command of Deputy Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan, supervised by the IPCC. During the investigation supervision was carried out by an IPCC Senior Investigator, and I have personally reviewed the evidence which was supplied both to me and to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Nine police officers and four members of the public were interviewed under criminal or misconduct caution, and statements taken from police officers, civil servants and others. The most complex aspect of the investigation was to prove or disprove a conspiracy – this involved among other things over 700 statements self-taken from all officers in the Diplomatic Protection Group responding to a series of questions about the incident, their contact with PC Wallis and the press, as well as forensic analysis of mobile phones and computers of those who were directly implicated.
The substantive investigation was concluded in April 2013 and an initial file of evidence was submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service. Further lines of enquiry requested by the CPS followed over the next few months, and further evidence was obtained as a result of information supplied on behalf of Mr Mitchell in May and August 2013.
The investigation was further complicated by an anonymous allegation passed to the Director of Public Prosecutions and IPCC that the Downing Street Liaison Sergeant was at the heart of the conspiracy and had decided, following an incident with Mr Mitchell the previous evening, to ‘stitch him up’. This was also investigated. While there had been an incident at the Downing Street gates the previous evening when Mr Mitchell was initially refused permission to exit through the main gates, different officers were involved, no language was reported and neither from phone records nor witnesses is there any evidence to support this allegation.
The CPS decided on 26 November 2013 to charge PC Wallis with misconduct in public office, to which he pleaded guilty and has today been sentenced to 12 months in prison.
Although commentators have questioned both the length and thoroughness of the investigation, these were very serious allegations – with serious consequences not only for Mr Mitchell but for public confidence in the police - that needed to be robustly investigated. In my view the MPS has done this.
The evidence is that the gate officer, unlike some of his colleagues, did not want to pursue the matter and was content with the apology he had received from Mr Mitchell. He was not responsible for the way the incident was spun by some of those who came to hear about it.
Whatever was said during the original altercation, what is in my view beyond doubt is that the incident should have gone no further than the personal apology Mr Mitchell made to the gate officer for swearing. Whatever Mr Mitchell said, it was not audible to the other police officers standing several feet away.
The patchwork of evidence from emails, text messages and telephone calls does not suggest an organised conspiracy to bring down a Cabinet Minister. But there was clearly collusion between certain officers to, as they saw it, blow the whistle on bad behaviour toward one of their own, which ultimately had the same effect.
The actions of PC Wallis - and the other officers responsible for turning a largely inaudible altercation lasting less than a minute into a national scandal – have not only caused injustice to Mr Mitchell, they have brought shame upon the police service. Now that the criminal proceedings have concluded it is important for the Metropolitan Police Service to proceed as quickly as possible to the misconduct hearings and to deal effectively with any underlying issues so that they can finally close the book on this sorry chapter.
The law does not allow for the misconduct hearings now being arranged for five officers to be held in public. In the circumstances I am requesting the Metropolitan Police Service to publish their report once the misconduct proceedings have been concluded.
The appropriate authority can be:
- the chief officer of the police force
- the Police and Crime Commissioner responsible for the police force you complained about
- the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (if your complaint is about the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service)
- the Common Council for the City of London (if your complaint is about the Commissioner of the City of London police).