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Yes, they've had their revenge...but police have lost our trust, says Andrew Mitchell

Andrew Mitchell writes for the Mail on Sunday.

  • The former Tory Cabinet Minister had his own run-in with the police over the 'Plebgate' affair in 2012, which led to his resignation as Chief Whip
  • In the past week, we have seen the resignation of Damian Green - 'a thoroughly decent public servant'
  • And Mr Mitchell says 'the police should never have been allowed to enter Parliament in the way they did'

I recently visited the police station in Sutton Coldfield to thank our local officers for keeping us safe throughout the past 12 months - something I have done every Christmas for 17 years.

We rely on our police to keep us from harm and more than 90 per cent of them do a wonderful job as dedicated servants of their local communities, keeping villains at bay and looking after us all.

In the past week, we have seen the resignation of Damian Green, a thoroughly decent public servant, elected politician and friend of mine.

His admitted breach of the Ministerial Rules is dwarfed by the extraordinary behaviour of two officers - Bob Quick and Neil Lewis, both of whom have now left the force. They engaged in a raid on his office in 2008 which backfired spectacularly on the Metropolitan Police at the time.

They have now exacted their revenge - but the police should never have been allowed to enter Parliament in the way that they did and the current Speaker, I have little doubt, would have refused to permit it. This is not about the liberties of Damian Green. It is about the rights of all of us in a free society.

These officers have sought to blacken the name of a serving politician by suggesting that he had viewed entirely legal pornography on his computer; something we are told is indulged in by about 80 per cent of our fellow citizens.

Consider what this means. We have a duty to co-operate in any police inquiry. A citizen police force operates within the law and by consent. But these police officers kept evidence wholly unrelated to their inquiry and used it, not in respect of any crime, but to destroy an elected politician who they failed to nail in an operation conducted nearly a decade ago. This is outrageous.

It has rightly been condemned by the most senior police officer in the country, Cressida Dick.

Unfortunately, it is doubtful if there are legal powers to prosecute these officers for what they have done. But be in no doubt why this is so serious.
It has little to do with Damian Green. It is about the rights of every citizen in our country.

If police officers can stop a young man in Brixton or Erdington, and, under stop-and- search police powers, download the contents of his phone and keep for future use wholly legal but personally embarrassing details - precisely what these officers did to Mr Green - then citizens will not co-operate with the police for fear their rights will be infringed. Suppose our youngster in Brixton is gay but hasn't told his mother. He needs to know that this sort of thing can't happen. Following Damian Green's treatment, it is absolutely clear that it can.

Fortunately there are solutions which can help.

The police largely police themselves and there is little protection for whistleblowers. Frankly, wrongdoing is almost always exposed by the media rather than the state. The Independent Police Complaints Commission was well intentioned but is always under-resourced and often simply ignored by police forces themselves. Such a body should be led by a senior figure such as a former Lord Chancellor, which would immediately send the right signal. Alas, it has always been seen as toothless.

Reforming the police must also include the introduction of an Officer Corps.
Lip service has been paid to this by allowing a small number of direct entrants into the police at superintendent level.

Sadly, though, the numbers involved have been insufficient and few have decided that it is worth staying on with the level of animosity towards those who have not worked their way up from the bottom being so great.

The way to break these unacceptable practices is through much stronger leadership and the injection of new blood at senior levels, as well as the far greater accountability I have described.

Many believe there is a case for the Metropolitan Police to be led by an outsider, as it was in the past. An experienced and senior soldier, who has significant experience of command, should be considered in open competition with internal candidates (although it has to be said that Cressida Dick, the recently appointed first female Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has made a very impressive start).

I grew up when policing in Britain was symbolised by TV's Dixon of Dock Green, an amiable old police officer who epitomised the British bobby.

Of course, those times have gone and the threats to our society have become more sophisticated and dangerous. I was brought up, and I brought up my own two daughters, to believe that you could ask a police officer the time or directions with trust and enthusiasm.

As policing stands now, and with the greatest possible regret, I would not give my daughters the same advice today.

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