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If the police are allowed to lie and cheat, we are heading for anarchy ( U.K. )

The Andrew Mitchell case is not isolated, and there are grounds for a Royal   Commission

Few who spend time in British courts wait long before coming across cases where the police have misrepresented, or made up, or suppressed evidence

Few who spend time in British courts wait long before coming across cases where the police have misrepresented, or made up, or suppressed evidence Photo: Getty Images

 

8:32PM BST 16 Oct 2013

When the allegations against Andrew   Mitchell were first made, my sympathies were entirely with   the police. I have frequently witnessed shatteringly rude or overbearing   conduct by senior politicians towards minor functionaries. This kind of   behaviour, which amounts to abuse of power, is completely detestable.

There seemed little reason to disbelieve police claims that Mr Mitchell had   behaved in the way that they described. There was certainly no reason why a   Cabinet minister should be exempt from the consequences. When David Cameron   finally sacked him, my only criticism was that the Prime Minister had been   rather too slow to take action.

It is now clear that I (along with many others) owe Mr Mitchell an apology.   After the finding from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC)   that three police officers lied about their dealings with him, it can be   said with confidence that Mr Mitchell has been (at least in this regard) the   victim of a police conspiracy.

Furthermore, it is important to bear in mind that Mr Mitchell’s ill treatment   stretches far beyond the events described in the IPCC report. Footage   obtained by Michael Crick, political correspondent for Channel 4 News, casts   severe doubt on the original police account of his argument outside Downing   Street; it is possible that a police log was fabricated, and certain that an   officer pretended to be a passer-by in order to smear him further.

These lies can only have been intended to damage Mr Mitchell. And they were   effective: he was forced to resign and for several months his career lay in   ruins. For a time he suffered from something close to clinical depression   and he lost two stone. Only now is he being rehabilitated; there is talk   that David Cameron has promised to appoint him as the next British   commissioner in Brussels.

Despite all this, my sympathy with Mr Mitchell is limited. In one very   important sense he is an extraordinarily fortunate man. He is rich,   powerful, well-educated and has a large number of very influential friends   (including Charles Moore of the Telegraph, the Tory MP David Davis and the   novelist Robert Harris), who admirably stood by him and spoke up for him   during his long personal crisis.

They deserve great credit for their loyalty. Mr Harris has even romantically   compared Mr Mitchell’s misfortunes to the Dreyfus affair, the great French   scandal of the late 19th century, when a Jewish officer was falsely accused   of treason.

Perhaps so, but let’s imagine that Mr Mitchell was not a Cambridge-educated   Cabinet minister, but rather a young man without connections from one of   Britain’s many council estates. If the police had tried to plant fabricated   evidence on him, he would never have stood a chance. It is unlikely that our   most famous politicians, newspaper columnists and novelists would have   rallied round, or that the fearless political correspondent of Channel 4   News would have come to his rescue. The young man might have protested his   innocence, but few would have believed him. When he turned up in court, a   duty solicitor would probably have advised him to plead guilty, after which   he might or might not have gone to jail. We are not talking about a career   setback here, but a life ruined.

I know this will sound shocking, but few who spend time in British courts wait   long before coming across cases where the police have misrepresented, or   made up, or suppressed evidence. Here’s a couple of cases at random. Muslim   student Rizwaan Sabir was held without charge as a terrorist suspect, yet   West Midlands Police (according to its own professional standards unit)   fabricated key elements of the case against him. Karim Allison accused an   officer from Cleveland Police of making what he claimed was a racist   comment. In response, the policeman and other members of the force produced   evidence that resulted in Mr Allison being convicted at the magistrates’    court for obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duties. This   was later overturned, and compensation awarded; the jury found that it was   more likely than not that the evidence against him was fabricated, although   Cleveland Police insisted the inconsistencies resulted from the officer’s   inexperience.

There are, in addition, numerous cases where strong allegations have been made   that the police have fabricated evidence to get a conviction. The resulting   civil prosecutions tend to get settled out of court, so that you never get a   judgment clearly stating that the officers were lying.

This is all going to get a great deal worse now that Chris Grayling (whom I   suppose we must continue to refer to by his formal office as Lord   Chancellor) is slashing legal aid and making judicial review financially   unfeasible. Britain today has a two-tier legal system, just like health and   education. You can either buy your way to expensive advice, or rely on   state-funded representation. This works fine when the police can be trusted   to tell the truth. But when they are prepared to lie it becomes a different   matter.

Let’s now return to the three police officers (Insp Ken MacKaill, Det Sgt   Stuart Hinton and Sgt Chris Jones) who, according to the IPCC, lied about   Andrew Mitchell. Let’s remember that these men are all trusted with the   power of arrest, with gathering evidence, and expect to be heard with great   respect in court. Juries routinely convict on the basis of what they say.   And yet the police chiefs they work for have refused to take action against   them.

Traditionally, the police force has – quite rightly – demanded special   protections. Assaulting a police officer is a special category of offence,   with draconian penalties. Verbal abuse of a police officer is much worse   than swearing at a stranger – which was the key reason why I felt it right   that Andrew Mitchell should resign.

But surely there should be a reciprocal obligation, and the public should be   entitled to demand reasonably high standards of honesty from the police.   Those who lie and cheat, especially when providing evidence that can be used   against criminal suspects in court, should themselves be punished   exceptionally severely, and held up to public contempt.

Yet we know that this is not the case. Again and again, convenient strategies   have been used for police officers found guilty of making up evidence, such   as early retirement or sudden psychiatric problems. The Mitchell case is not   isolated. It is just the latest of a number where the police have meddled   with, altered, destroyed or fabricated vital material: think of the   Hillsborough tragedy, the Lawrence inquiry, the aftermath of the Jean   Charles de Menezes shooting, and more besides.

Something has gone wrong with many British institutions over the past few   decades. Parliament had its expenses scandal, the intelligence services were   complicit in telling lies about Iraq, bankers nearly destroyed the economy,   and journalists are still being brought to account for phone hacking. It is   time to acknowledge that the police force faces a crisis of such gravity   that it can only be solved by setting up a Royal Commission.

Politicians will hate it because it will eat up time and money, and the police   will rise up in protest. But it is necessary, as much for the police force   itself as for society. Policing is a splendid and noble profession, and   often our police are asked to do unpleasant and dangerous things. But the   moment their word can no longer be believed is the moment society trends   towards anarchy. That point has now been reached.

Twitter: @OborneTweets

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