LONDON: Britain's police watchdog on Tuesday questioned the honesty of three officers whose actions helped spark the resignation of former minister Andrew Mitchell, lending credence to his claims that he was the victim of a smear campaign.
Mitchell quit Prime Minister David Cameron's government in October 2012 after he was accused of calling police officers "f*****g plebs" in an altercation as he tried to push his bicycle through the gates of Downing Street.
The Conservative then-international development minister admitted swearing, but strongly denied using the politically toxic word "plebs" -- a derogatory term used to describe commoners.
Prosecutors are now considering criminal charges against some of the police officers involved over claims that they lied about what Mitchell said and effectively conspired to bring down a government minister.
The new report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) released on Tuesday criticises members of the Police Federation staff association who met with Mitchell three weeks after the altercation in a bid to smooth things over.
The Police Federation, which represents police officers, had seized on the so-called "plebgate" scandal to boost its campaign against cuts to their budget, accusing ministers of not respecting them.
IPCC deputy chairwoman Deborah Glass urged a fresh review of "whether the three officers gave a false account of the meeting in a deliberate attempt to support their (police) colleague and discredit Mr Mitchell, in pursuit of a wider agenda".
"In my opinion the evidence and the surrounding circumstances do give an indication of an issue of honesty and integrity and/or discreditable conduct, not merely naive or poor professional judgment," she said.
The meeting between Mitchell and the Police Federation had helped to seal his fate, as the officers said afterwards that Mitchell had failed to allay their concerns and should resign.
He quit a week later.
But Mitchell's supporters accused the officers of deliberately misrepresenting what he said to discredit him, and released a recording of the meeting to prove their point.
An investigation by the police forces represented by the three officers found the men had no case to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct -- a finding that the watchdog disagreed with.
Home Secretary Theresa May, the minister with responsibility for the police, said the report made "troubling reading".
"If it is indeed the case that warranted police officers behaved in the way Deborah Glass has described, that's not acceptable at all," she said.
Keith Vaz, a senior lawmaker who chairs parliament's home affairs committee, said it was "extremely serious", while Mitchell himself said it was a "matter of deep concern" that the officers had not been disciplined.
Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said it was "very necessary that the proper processes are followed so that we get to the bottom of things."
However, the police forces stood by their investigation, which they said was made under IPCC supervision, and the Police Federation condemned the watchdog's report.
"A decision has been made by the appropriate authority that there is no case to answer," the Federation said.
"Against this factual background, we are therefore shocked that the IPCC commissioner, Deborah Glass, would then appoint herself judge and jury by releasing her personal view."