and Opinion – The Andrew Mitchell Gategate Affair: why ‘Sorry’ isn’t good enough

Bobby Logue - Managing Director of Interconnective Limited
Bobby Logue - Managing Director of Interconnective Limited

Bobby Logue and Brian Sims explain why it should be an offence in law for anyone to verbally or physically abuse licensed security personnel.

Politicians appear to have learned a new word of late: “Sorry”. It’s one they seem to believe somehow acts as a magic wand to atone for – and ultimately wash away – their previous actions.

When Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg used ‘the S word’ last month (by way of an apology to Liberal Democrat supporters for pledging to block any increase in university tuition fees prior to the last General Election), the ‘So Sorry’ mantra was such a novelty that pranksters added music to the politician’s words and the ensuing ensemble featured on the iTunes chart.

Brian Sims - media solutions manager for UBM Live’s Security and Fire Portfolio
Brian Sims - media solutions manager for UBM Live’s Security and Fire Portfolio

Less amusing, however, is the alleged behaviour of the Government’s Chief Whip Andrew ‘Thrasher’ Mitchell (the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield and Parliamentary Secretary to HM Treasury), who’s said to have been verbally abusive towards police officers when trying to exit through the wrong gate following a recent ministerial visit to Number 10 Downing Street.

For the last week and more the coalition Government has been trying – pretty unsuccessfully, it must be said – to draw a line under the whole incident.

The Number 10 police log

Both The Telegraph and The Guardian reported on the Number 10 police log as it reflected an on duty officer’s record of what transpired after Mitchell had been advised he could not exit through the gate in question. Here’s an extract from that police log:

“My exact explanation to Mr Mitchell was: ‘I am more than happy to open the side pedestrian gate for you, Sir, but it’s policy that we are not to allow cycles through the main vehicle entrance. After several refusals, Mr Mitchell got off his bike and walked to the pedestrian gate with me after I again offered to open that for him. There were several members of the public present, as is the norm opposite the pedestrian gate and, as we neared it, Mr Mitchell said: ‘Best you learn your f****** place… You don’t run this f****** Government… You’re f****** plebs.’”

The police log continues: “The members of the public looked visibly shocked and I was somewhat taken aback by the language used and the view expressed by a senior Government official. I cannot say if this statement was aimed at me individually, or the officers present or the police service as a whole. I warned Mr Mitchell that he should not swear and that, if he continued to do so, I would have no option but to arrest him under the Public Order Act, saying: ‘Please don’t swear at me, Sir. If you continue to I will have no option but to arrest you under the Public Order Act’. Mr Mitchell was then silent and left saying: ‘You haven’t heard the last of this’ as he cycled off.”

Mitchell denies some elements of the Number 10 police log, but has apologised twice (more of which anon) for the incident as well as to the police officer concerned.

Mitchell admitted that he “did not treat the police with the respect they deserved”, but denied using the word “pleb”. The MP claimed to have said: “You guys are supposed to ******* help us.”

Reaction from the police service

John Tully, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said that Mitchell’s account was contradicted by the notes taken by two officers attendant at the scene.

Commenting on this incident, Paul McKeever – the chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales – responded: “It’s hard to fathom how someone who holds the police in such contempt could be allowed to hold a public office. Mr Mitchell’s half-hearted apology for the comments made while leaving Downing Street will do little to build bridges with the police who feel they have once again been treated with a lack of respect and civility by members of this Government. The lack of regard in which some within Government appear to hold police officers is especially disappointing during a tragic week for the service, and does nothing for the rock bottom morale of officers in this country.”

Five days subsequent to the episode, Mitchell apologised a second time for his behaviour.

“I want first of all to reiterate the apology I made last week after the incident on Wednesday night [19 September]. It had been the end of a long and extremely frustrating day, not that it’s any excuse at all for what happened. I did not show the police the amount of respect I should have done. We should all respect the police. They do an incredibly difficult job.” Indeed so, Mr Mitchell.

Mitchell continued: “I have apologised to the police. I have apologised to the police officer involved [on the gate at Number 10 Downing Street] and he has accepted my apology. I hope very much we can draw a line under it there.”

The MP also explained: “I’m very clear about what I said and what I did not say. I want to make it absolutely clear that I did not use the words that have been attributed to me.”

‘No inquiry’ states the Government

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has confirmed in a letter to Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper that there will be no inquiry into Andrew Mitchell’s outburst because the police officer has accepted Mitchell’s apology.

Fellow Conservative Party member and London Mayor Boris Johnson is – along with the Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe – on record as stating that anyone who swears at the police should be apprehended.

Indeed, in the national media Johnson is reported to have said: “If I read the papers correctly, there was a proposal to arrest Mr Mitchell for what he said. The Public Order Act does allow for police officers’ discretion in such matters. They have obviously decided not to go ahead with an arrest. However, what has happened shows the gravity of this offence. In my book you shouldn’t abuse police officers, and I’ve made that clear several times now.”

Growing cancer of abuse

What’s concerning here is the growing cancer of both physical and verbal abuse directed towards frontline personnel, be they shop assistants, dedicated and hard-working members of the emergency services or security personnel.

Often, such incidents are justified as “a moment of madness” when apologies are subsequently made by public figures who (a) are supposed to help dictate society’s moral compass and (b) by dint of that fact, and their station in life, should know better.

If the reported facts are correct in this case then Andrew Mitchell should at least resign his post.

Let’s remember that, while in opposition, the Conservative Party – including, of course, the current Prime Minister David Cameron – was vocal about the problem of incivility in our society.

The failure to conduct a full and thorough investigation into this latest episode further erodes public confidence in politicians’ ability to make tough decisions about their own kind, let alone act as social arbiter for the rest of us.

In the security sector the problem of abuse, both physical and verbal, has increased to the point that the Regulator – the Security Industry Authority – has deemed it necessary for physical intervention training to become mandatory in respect of all door supervisors when they renew their licences from February next year.

All licensed security personnel have been trained in conflict management before being issued licences since the implementation of the Private Security Industry Act of 2001.

We believe that serious consideration should now be given to making it an offence – punishable in a Court of Law – for anyone to physically or verbally abuse licensed security personnel.

Bobby Logue is managing director of Interconnective and produces

Brian Sims is media solutions manager for UBM Live’s Security and Fire Portfolio