On 6th February 2014 PC Keith Wallis was sentenced for misconduct in a public office.
On 10th January 2014 PC Keith Wallis pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office in relation to an email that he sent to the Deputy Chief Whip of the Tory party stating that he had witnessed Andrew Mitchell confront diplomatic protection officers in Downing Street in 2012 and supporting the allegation that Mr Mitchell had used the ‘P word’. Mr Wallis wrongly claimed to be a constituent of Mr Mitchell. In fact, Wallis was at home at the time of the incident. Wallis was drunk at the time he sent the email, having drunk “a significant amount of alcohol”.
Wallis insisted that no one had put him up to it and the prosecution said that there was no evidence of a conspiracy against Mr Mitchell.
On 10th January, David Cameron said: “It is completely unacceptable for a serving police officer to falsify an account of any incident. Andrew Mitchell has consistently denied the version of events presented in the email and I welcome the fact that the officer concerned has now pleaded guilty.”
Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe issued a personal apology to Mitchell, acknowledging the damage to the public trust in the police.
Wallis is the only police officer to have faced criminal charges over the Plebgate incident.
Scotland Yard said that Wallis would face a misconduct hearing at the conclusion of the legal proceedings.
Wallis was released on bail between entering his plea and the sentencing hearing and it is not clear whether the Judge gave Wallis the ‘all options are open’ talk, indicating that his release on bail did not create a legitimate expectation that he would receive a non-custodial sentence (we suspect he was).
Patrick Gibbs QC mitigated on Wallis’ behalf. He said:
Wallis was later diagnosed with acute anxiety and depression. He had to move out of his home because his wife was so upset. When arrested, he said ‘I knew I should have thrown myself under a train yesterday’.
Wallis was ‘mortified by the disgrace brought onto the Metropolitan Police Service’ by his actions.
Wallis “expected nothing to come of it…didn’t expect John Randall [MP] to contact him” after sending the email.
Maggs said there was “general outrage” among police at Andrew Mitchell’s behaviour and feelings were “running extremely high”.
Wallis’ account “got completely out of hand” … “A sad and solitary piece of grave foolishness”
Maggs said ‘It’s plain that Wallis was psychologically damaged at time of his offence. Plainer still he’s in a worse state now.’and ‘…to speak with PC Wallis is not really like speaking to an adult at all’
Maggs suggested that Wallis should be treated for his mental health problems and not made a scapegoat.
We predicted that he would receive an immediate custodial sentence. There are no sentencing guidelines for this offence.
When the plea was entered, Wallis’ barrister Patrick Gibbs QC, told Mr Justice Sweeney that Wallis had offered his resignation to the Met police and pleaded guilty at the first opportunity. He received full credit for that.
Wallis received 12 months. That would suggest a starting point of 18 months (or above) when taking account of his credit for pleading guilty and his personal mitigation.
The sentencing remarks are available here.
A victim impact statement written by Mr Mitchell referred to the truthfulness of his account but was not read out in court.
Mr Justice Sweeney said:
Wallis had engaged in “devious misconduct” and his actions amounted to a “betrayal” of standards expected of police.
Wallis’ actions had a significant negative impact on public trust, confidence and integrity of the police service.
The Judge said that an immediate custodial sentence was required and sentenced him to 12 months.
Have a read of the sentencing remarks before forming a view. A starting point of 18 months – as selected by the Judge – was exactly what we expected. Mr Maggs QC argued that the mental health condition was a reason to suspended the custodial sentence. It is arguable that such a proposition is correct but in this case, if an appeal is lodged, we would not expect much of a reduction in sentence, if at all.
The courts seek to mark examples of misconduct in public office with immediate custody and a case would need to be exceptional to warrant a departure from the standard practice.