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Plebgate officers due before MPs
Two police officers caught up in the so-called plebgate row face a public scolding today as they are hauled before MPs to apologise for giving "misleading" evidence.
Police Federation representatives Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton and Sergeant Chris Jones will appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee for the second time in as many weeks.
Along with Inspector Ken MacKaill, the two officers were accused of attempting to discredit former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell after meeting him in October last year.
The officers, who were representing the forces of West Mercia, Warwickshire and West Midlands, were spared misconduct proceedings by an internal investigation.
But the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) later disputed the findings and said there were issues of ''honesty and integrity'' among the three men.
After taking evidence from the three officers on October 23, the committee published a report, which found their evidence was "possibly deliberately" misleading, lacked credibility and was contradictory.
And the IPCC yesterday announced it will conduct its own investigation after finding "procedural irregularities" in the way the initial inquiry was handled.
Dame Anne Owers and Rachel Cerfontyne, chair and deputy chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), will also appear before the committee.
Mr Mitchell met with the three representatives at his Sutton Coldfield constituency office after he was accused of calling officers guarding Downing Street ''plebs'' in an alleged foul-mouthed rant as he was asked to cycle through a side gate on September 19 last year.
The Tory MP said he wanted to sit with Mr MacKaill, Det Sgt Hinton and Sgt Jones to ''clear the air''.
A transcript shows Mr Mitchell apologised for swearing at the police officers but denied using the word ''plebs'', while in comments made after the meeting Mr MacKaill claimed the former Tory chief whip refused to provide an account of the incident.
In its report, the committee hit out at the three officers for refusing to apologise for their actions, given the effect it had on Mr Mitchell's personal life and career. He resigned a month after the altercation took place at the Downing Street gates.
''If evidence was given in a similar manner by three serving police officers to a court of law it is our view that such testimony would undermine a case and lead a jury to reach an unfavourable conclusion as to the credibility of the evidence given by those police officers,'' the report read.
The group of MPs was also particularly critical of Det Sgt Hinton for referring to Home Secretary Theresa May as ''that woman'' before claiming he was misquoted in an apparent attempt to avoid disciplinary action.
The IPCC later revealed it had found problems with the draft and final reports produced by the original internal inquiry led by West Mercia Police.
The report was missing Chief Inspector Jerry Reakes-Williams' opinion, who led the investigation, the IPCC said.
Mr Reakes-Williams found the officers had a misconduct case to answer, but his opinion was not included in the report because he mistakenly believed the report should reflect the views of each of the forces' senior officers, it added.
The Crown Prosecution Service is considering whether to bring criminal charges following Scotland Yard's separate investigation into the incident, known as Operation Alice.
Eight people including five police officers arrested under the £230,000-plus investigation were re-bailed last week.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Select Committee, said today was a "big opportunity" for the two officers who will face MPs again.
He told BBC Breakfast: "I'm sorry to say that in a number of respects they have given evidence that was not strictly accurate, so this is their big opportunity today to come before the committee and to explain why that happened and to correct the record."
Mr Vaz said he was frustrated with the time and cost of the inquiry.
"I think we're getting near the end but I share your frustration and that of the viewers that this has taken so long and cost so much money - almost a third of a million pounds - and involved so many police officers.
"I hope that what the Select Committee has done two weeks ago and what we will do today is point the way to closure for Mr Mitchell, but also for all those other officers."
Mr Vaz added: "This is a very, very long time for events that took place a year ago and lasted a very short period of time.
"I think it's in everyone's interests - the taxpayer, Mr Mitchell, the police officers - that they are drawn to a close as quickly as possible."