Plebgate charges 'within weeks'
Criminal charges linked to the so-called Plebgate affair could be brought by the end of the month, Britain's most senior police officer has said.
Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said he hoped to hand a file to prosecutors in a matter of weeks, when the force closes its investigation into whether former chief whip Andrew Mitchell was the target of a conspiracy involving officers.
Appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee, the Met chief revealed that a police officer arrested on suspicion of misconduct in a public office will answer bail on January 31, while a relative of the officer will answer bail on January 16.
Mr Mitchell was forced to quit his Cabinet post amid a storm of protest - fuelled by the Police Federation - over claims he called officers "plebs" during an altercation in Downing Street.
Hitting out at the Federation for meddling in politics, Sir Bernard told the committee it was not for the staff association to get involved with Mr Mitchell's resignation. The commissioner insisted he had an "open mind" to the inquiry in the face of criticism that he had hastily backed the police officers involved.
He admitted he made the comments before seeing the evidence that has since been made available - including CCTV footage of Mr Mitchell exiting the gate to the Prime Minister's residence.
Committee chairman Keith Vaz recounted Sir Bernard's assertion shortly after the allegations emerged that the Met boss would "stand by" his officers "100%". Mr Vaz asked: "Are you still saying you stand by the events or do you now have an open mind?"
Sir Bernard replied: "I do have an open mind. If any comment that I have made left anyone thinking I couldn't have an open mind, I'm sorry." He added: "I'm open-minded. I will pursue the evidence."
Clarifying the terms of the inquiry, Sir Bernard said it set out to "investigate the circumstances surrounding the police officer's claims to witnessing the incident on Downing Street". He said the inquiry set out to "establish if there's any evidence of a conspiracy between the police and any other persons".
"We expect we may be able to share a report with the CPS by the end of this month. A matter of weeks before we do as much as we can," he added.
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