UK police face new inquiry over 'plebgate' scandal

LONDON (AFP) - Britain's police watchdog said on Sunday it will carry out a fresh investigation into three officers whose actions helped spark the resignation of former minister Andrew Mitchell amid what he said was a smear campaign.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it had found "procedural irregularities" in an internal police inquiry into an incident in which Mitchell was accused of calling police "f**king plebs".

The Conservative then-international development minister admitted swearing during an altercation as he tried to push his bicycle through the gates of Downing Street.

But he strongly denied using the politically toxic word "plebs" - a derogatory term used to describe commoners.

He quit Prime Minister David Cameron's government in October 2012 after the row.

Two members of the Police Federation, which represents officers, are to be hauled before lawmakers on Tuesday after being accused of giving "misleading" answers in a previous session.

Meanwhile, a new investigation by the IPCC will take place, involving no one who took part in the previous probe, which cleared officers involved in the affair of misconduct.

"The only mode of investigation that would satisfy the public interest and maintain confidence in the police oversight regime is an independent one, carried out by the IPCC's own staff, and this is what will now take place," said IPCC deputy chairwoman Deborah Glass.

Lawmaker Keith Vaz, who sits on parliament's Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "The narrative of what we have seen could rival any great work of fiction.

"At every point and at every level, instead of being transparent, we have uncovered a process that obstructs the truth.

"If this can happen to a Cabinet minister, what hope is there for anyone else?"

Prosecutors are meanwhile 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.

An IPCC report released last month criticised members of the Police Federation who met with Mitchell three weeks after the altercation in a bid to smooth things over.

That meeting 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.

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.