I am against statutory regulation of the press – it’s a threat to a free society – but journalism shouldn’t simply be regulated by journalists. The papers take the point, which is why the version of the proposed Royal Charter backed by most Fleet Street papers proposes that non-journalists have a majority on the new regulatory body (as is the case with the Press Complaints Commission).
And just as journalism shouldn’t just be regulated by journalists, so the police shouldn’t be regulated by policemen. In most instances, of course, they aren’t – but investigations are a bit of a grey area. As the Guardian points out this morning, the Independent Police Complaints Commission could itself have investigated the meeting between Andrew Mitchell and the local Police Federation, but didn’t.
In complaining that “an issue of honesty and integrity” arises from the West Midlands Police’s own inquiry, the IPCC is therefore shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. In cases of this kind, the IPCC must ensure that it is well and truly locked in the first place. And it has neglected another stable door: that of the Met’s parallel inquiry into the original Downing Street incident.
That investigation, Operation Alice, has had some 30 police officers put on it and is yet to report – although the incident took place over a year ago and lasted only 45 seconds. There is an irony in the Police Federation’s complaint yesterday that the IPCC was acting as “judge and jury” in the West Midlands case – because this was exactly what it didn’t do, since it refused to examine it in either capacity.
It instead handed over those functions to the West Midlands police, who really did sit as judge and jury: as the IPCC complaints, it has no power to order a misconduct panel to be held in this case. Indeed, the use of the phrase by the Fed turns out to gloriously self-revelatory. It seems to believe that bodies should act both as judge and jury, and that the appropriate one in this case is…itself.
All of which leads to a question: if we can’t trust the West Midlands police to get it right, can we really trust the Met?