British policeman jailed for 12 months over 'Plebgate' scandal

6th February 2014, Comments 0 comments

A British policeman was jailed for 12 months on Thursday after he falsely claimed to have witnessed a row over a bicycle at Prime Minister David Cameron's residence that brought down a government minister.

Police constable Keith Wallis, 53, a member of Scotland Yard's elite diplomatic protection squad, was sentenced by a judge at the Old Bailey court in London a month after he pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office.

Wallis pretended he saw the brief argument between the then government chief whip Andrew Mitchell and an officer at the gates of Cameron's Downing Street residence in September 2012.

Sentencing Wallis, Judge Nigel Sweeney said the policeman had kept up his lies for nearly three months, demonstrating "devious misconduct which fell far below the standards expected of a police officer."

Mitchell was forced to resign over claims he called officers guarding Downing Street "fucking plebs" because they refused to let him go through the main gate with his bicycle, adding that they should "know your fucking place".

Mitchell admitted he swore but denied using the word "pleb", a derogatory term for the lower social classes.

He resigned over the so-called "Plebgate" row a few weeks later but questions about the honesty of Britain's police have rippled out from the scandal ever since.

Wallis admitted lying in an email to his local lawmaker that he was present during the row, and admitted arranging for his nephew to support the claim.

The judge said that he was "in no position to decide precisely what happened between the officers and Mr Mitchell in Downing Street nor do I need to do so.

"But it is absolutely clear what did not happen -- you were not an independent member of the public, you were not present, neither was your nephew, and neither of you witnessed the incident."

The court heard earlier that Wallis had been infuriated by the reports of Mitchell's exchange with police, combined with high emotions over the killing of two female police officers in the northwestern city of Manchester the previous day.

He got drunk after a shift then went home to send a late-night email with the false claim, complete with spelling mistakes.

London's Metropolitan Police said Wallis had offered to resign but that his request had been turned down, and there would now be an internal misconduct hearing to decide his future.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the head of the force, said that Wallis's actions "have clearly fallen way below the standards that me, my fellow police officers and the public demand".

Hogan-Howe said he had personally apologised to Mitchell on Wednesday.

The row over "Plebgate" continues however, with Mitchell himself facing defamation proceedings from another policeman, Toby Rowland, whom the politician accused of lying.

Mitchell is meanwhile suing Rupert Murdoch's best-selling tabloid The Sun for reporting Rowland's claims.

© 2014 AFP

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