Constable from specialist Met police unit held after force received information on alleged leaking of information
An officer from Scotland Yard’s diplomatic protection group, SO6, has been arrested in connection with the alleged leaking of information to the press about an incident at Downing Street in which Andrew Mitchell, the then chief whip, is said to have called officers “plebs”.
The constable from the specialist Metropolitan police unit, which guards embassies as well as members of the government, was bailed on Sunday after his arrest the day before and has been suspended from duty.
The Met said in a statement on Sunday night that its directorate of professional standards (DPS) arrested him on suspicion of misconduct in a public office after the force received fresh information on Thursday regarding the alleged unauthorised disclosure of information.
The officer, who was not on duty at the time of the incident in Downing Street in September, was taken to a London police station after his arrest on Saturday evening. The so-called “plebgate” row over the exchange between Mitchell and police officers at Downing Street led to the Tory MP resigning as chief whip in October, after he waged a month-long fight to save his career and fend off the claims. The MP has denied using the word “pleb”.
Weeks before his resignation, the Met launched an investigation into how the Sun was leaked an internal report suggesting Mitchell did call the police “plebs”.
The tabloid, which broke the original story about the incident, said it had seen a police report of the incident, prepared for senior officers, which indicated that Mitchell also swore repeatedly at officers.
The arrest is the latest in a crackdown by the Met police on relationships between the police and the press as a result of the Leveson inquiry. Met police media guidelines say any officer suspected of leaking information should be subjected to disciplinary and/or criminal investigation.
The Met – and the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) – have welcomed the Leveson report, which recommends police whistleblowers who are acting in the public interest should not go to the media but instead report their concerns internally, to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary or to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). Andy Trotter, an Acpo spokesman on media relations, has dismissed whistleblowers as gossips interested in embarrassing others in their organisation.
The Guardian reported this month how another constable – James Patrick – was being investigated for gross misconduct for a series of blogs and tweets – which he turned into book detailing his belief that reform of the police service is putting the public at risk. Patrick’s lawyer, Karen Todner, said he was a whistleblower and the issue was one of freedom of expression. “This is someone who has tried to raise his concerns through the legitimate channels but was not able to do so,” said Todner.
In its statement regarding the arrest, the Met said it had contacted the IPCC on Sunday and would formally refer the matter to the body on Monday.
“The arrest is linked to previous inquiries by the MPS as to how internal MPS information was obtained by national newspapers following an incident at Downing Street in September,” it added.
“These inquiries found no evidence to suggest any of the officers involved in the incident were involved in the unauthorised release of information.”
The row developed after police at Downing Street refused to open the main gates to allow Mitchell to take his bicycle through, instead forcing him to use the side gate.
The exact words used by the politician on the night have been disputed ever since, although he has admitted to saying: “I thought you guys were supposed to fucking help us.”
It has been argued since then that he should have been arrested for abusing a police officer – a public order offence