Andrew Mitchell Police Officers 'Honest Mistake' In 'Plebgate' Committee Meeting

Two police officers embroiled in the Andrew Mitchell "plebgate" affair have told MPs they "regret" the distress caused to former Tory chief whip - but refuse to admit they had mislead MPs over the affair.

One, Dept Sgt Stuart Hinton apologised to MPs at the Home Affairs Committee for an "honest mistake" he made in a previous hearing - but refused to accept he had intended to discredit the former chief whip.

Both he and Sgt Chris Jones said they "regret the distress" caused to the Tory MP and his family, but the officers "totally refute" some allegations. Jones refused to apologised when asked directly by the Committee's chair.

Sergeant Chris Jones appearing before a Home Affairs Select Committee hearing on the Andrew Mitchell row

Today, Hinton, of Warwickshire Police, said he had made an "inadvertent error", while speaking to the Committee last month. In its report from that hearing, the Committee said it had doubts about the credibility of what had been said to them by the officers.

Jones, of West Midlands Police, said today he did not believe had misled MPs, disclosing that 13 complaints had been made about him, but none upheld.

He was forced to explain this to the committee after the chief constable of the West Midlands wrote to the committee, disclosing the 13 complaints made against Jones, including the Plebgate affair. Two were the subject of a local resolution with the complainant, three were closed by dispensation, five were unsubstantiated and two led to action being taken, the chief constable said.

Along with Inspector Ken MacKaill, the two officers were previously accused of attempting to discredit Mitchell after meeting him in October last year.

After the meeting the officers told reporters Mitchell had failed to give an account of what happened in Downing Street, the night he was accused of calling two duty police officers "plebs" - which Mitchell has repeatedly denied.

A transcript of that October meeting, provided by the MP, contradicted that allegation, and the officers were hauled back in front of the Committee to correct themselves.

The committee found Hinton had made "mendacious" comments, recorded by Mitchell, in which he referred to a "woman that the Conservative Party have". Hinton later admitted he meant Home Secretary Theresa May.

While the men apologised for distress caused in the wake of the original incident in September last year, the officers both said they would not apologise over claims that they gave misleading accounts of their October meeting.

Reading from a prepared statement, both men told the committee today: "While the committee appears to believe, however, that we are indifferent to Mr Mitchell's predicament, and the distress caused to him and his family since the original incident in Downing Street, we are not.

"Each of us fully recognises and regrets the fact that such distress has been caused.

Andrew Mitchell, the former government chief whip

"We share the belief that the investigation into the original incident in Downing Street has already taken a disproportionate period of time and should be resolved in the interests of all parties without delay."

Vaz said: "That is a different position to the position given to the Committee on the last occasion.

"When you talked about an apology to Mr Mitchell you said it was a general apology to all those who had been affected.

"You are telling the Committee now that you specifically wish to apologise to Mr Mitchell and his family for the distress caused."

To which, Hinton replied: "For the distress caused. I can't apologise for something that I haven't done and there are other accusations that I totally refute."

Jones remained defiant, refusing to apologise to Mr Mitchell over the row.

He told the committee: "I can't apologise for something that I haven't done, but I do regret the disproportionate distress it has caused his family and I would urge that the CPS report and the investigation into this matter is concluded as quickly as possible."

Vaz asked him: "You don't want to apologise for any distress?"

Refusing to do so, he replied: "At the moment."

The officers were spared misconduct proceedings by an internal police investigation.

But the Independent Police Complaints Commission later disputed the findings and said there were issues of ''honesty and integrity'' among the three men.

Earlier today, Vaz revealed that the cost of the investigation into the row has spiralled to almost a third of a million pounds.

Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton appearing before a Home Affairs Select Committee hearing on the Andrew Mitchell row

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."

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."

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 announced yesterday that it will carry out 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, will also appear before the committee.

Mitchell met 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 MacKaill, Hinton and Jones to ''clear the air''.

A transcript shows Mitchell apologised for swearing at the police officers but denied using the word ''plebs'', while in comments made after the meeting 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 Mitchell's personal life and career. He resigned a month after the altercation took place.

''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.

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.

Mayor Boris Johnson said he discusses the progress of the long-running Plebgate investigation almost every time he meets Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, but declined to say how recently they had spoken about the issue.

More than a year after the original incident, Johnson said he wanted to see the inquiry "wrapped up".

He told LBC 97.3 radio: "It has been raised by me or by Stephen Greenhalgh, deputy mayor for policing and crime, at virtually every meeting we've had with the Commissioner.

"It is important that it's wrapped up. I want to see that it's knocked on the head. I saw what the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) had to say about it and I hope things reach a conclusion as fast as possible."

Chairwoman of police watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission Dame Anne Owers said it will hold its own investigation into the claims that the two officers gave "misleading" evidence to the committee.

She said that both the IPCC inquiry into the original Sutton Coldfield dispute, and the latest claims over evidence, should be finished by Christmas.

"We are going to wrap all of this up together. The question of what the officers did or didn't say in front of this committee is a relatively simple matter to deal with.

"We anticipate that we will be able to complete both investigations this side of Christmas", she said.