Plebgate

Some years ago the better half was in a very minor traffic accident. She was standing still at a red light and a car that had drawn alongside pulled across and scraped her car’s wing. It was a very little scrape, partly because her car was standing still and the other one was travelling at substantially less than walking speed. Even the Jaguar-approved garage – and they are not modest in their charges – quoted only £200 to put it right.

The other driver was a Nigerian man. They pulled over to exchange details. A minute or so later a police car pulled up. The better half called me. Two things, I said: photograph the damage on your mobile, and grovel to the policeman. She forgot the first and it turned out to be too late for the second. I could hear the policeman in the background. He was saying:

“Speak to me with respect, or I’ll say that I saw it and that it was your fault.”

Apparently she hadn’t addressed him as ‘Officer’, which they like.

The policeman had not seen the accident, of course. He had been hundreds of yards away at the time driving his car.

Months later our insurance company told us that the Nigerian driver had claimed that his car had had to be written off, and, worse, he had spent six months immobilised as a result of a whiplash injury sustained in the accident.

Presumably, we said to our insurance company, you will not be prepared to be ripped off in this way. They said that on the whole they thought that that would be best. We persuaded them however to defend the claim in court.

Various very strange things happened when we got there.

The first was that the Nigerian man giving evidence as to his injuries was not the Nigerian man who had been driving the car. No doubt the fraudsters banked on the fact that Justice is blind, certainly when it comes to telling one black man from another.

The second was that we were told by the judge and our own barrister that the one thing that we couldn’t do was to challenge the evidence of the policeman. Policemen don’t lie, they said. You are not even to suggest that they might.

The policeman swept in late. He had been promoted and was now busy protecting Her Majesty, he said, something that visibly impressed the judge. As we now know, the police protecting Her Majesty were also busy selling private stories about her to the newspapers.

He proceeded to perjure himself. Yes, he said, he had seen it all. It had been a vicious attack by the better half on an innocent black man.

We lost, of course. Our insurance company shelled out a small fortune for non-existent car damage and fictitious injuries. It all left a sour taste, as if all concerned, including the judge, were part of a nasty scheme to enrich the claimant and the lawyers; the motorists whose premiums fund the whole circus could afford it.

There was nothing financial in it, however, for the policeman. He was motivated by malice. He took against the better half and he thought that she should have treated him with the respect to which his blue serge entitled him. He lied under oath out of pure spite, and we were denied the opportunity of saying so.

This all came to mind with the news yesterday of ‘Plebgate’ and its cover-up. There are striking similarities.

The Downing Street policemen lied about Mr Mitchell. Their lies were substantial. They said that he said things that he didn’t and they invented an audience that wasn’t there. They did it out of spite in order to damage his career, and they succeeded. He lost his job.

The police authorities, comprising, apparently, three Chief Constables, considered the matter over many months. Their conclusion is that the police officers may have acted wrongly, but they did nothing to warrant disciplinary action.

If that doesn’t “warrant disciplinary action” I can’t imagine what does. In any other walk of life they would have been sacked.

The three Chief Constables whose conclusion this is (and jokes about the three little pigs are quite out of order: this is a serious matter) would no doubt solemnly inform me, if they were with me here, that if the police are content to operate with standards that low that is a matter for them and none of my business: we get the checks and balances that we pay for.

That may well be; but I hope that next time in an ordinary modest court a policeman crudely perjures himself and everyone in the room stares at their feet in embarrassment, a barrister will rise to his feet and say to the judge, “Plebgate, Your Honour.”

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