Cover up, stitch up... What a complete cock up! Admiral PR

Cover up, stitch up… What a complete cock up!

It will come as no surprise that Andrew Mitchell is reported to have no confidence in the Metropolitan Police Chief Bernard Hogan-Howe and has asked that he does not head the inquiry into the ‘Plebgate’ affair. In view of the fact that a second man has been arrested on suspicion of ‘intentionally encouraging or assisting the commission of an indictable offence’, thought to be that of misconduct in public office, serious questions are being raised about this whole affair. They go right to the heart of the Metropolitan Police, the National Federation of Police Officers, their relationship with the Government and perhaps even more importantly, the public’s trust in the police.

Channel 4’s Dispatches programme exposed the serious gaps in the police accounts of what happened at the Downing Street gates on that evening in September, which ultimately led to Mitchell’s resignation 28 days later. Where were the crowds at the gates? Who was the constituent claiming to have witnessed the event? Why did the National Federation of Police Officers, representing 124,000 rank-and-file coppers, jump on the bandwagon so vociferously and call for Mitchell’s resignation despite the officer who dealt with him having accepted his apology?

While the Met’s investigation will, we hope, answer some important questions, the whole episode has been a classic example of a public relations disaster from top to bottom. As former Home Secretary Lord Baker said, there are suggestions that the Police Federation’s response to ‘plebgate’ was less about what Mitchell is alleged to have said, and more about what the Government is doing in terms of police reforms. Issues that in the past would have been fought out mostly behind closed doors are now fought out aggressively in the media. The Police Federation must have thought Christmas had come early and had delivered the perfect public relations campaign for them to rough up the Government. Now it seems they have been rather naughty and have ended up with cinders in their stocking. They are left hoping Santa brings them some seriously good crisis communications advice, except they need it right now.

Recent statistics show that £30 million a year is being spent on police corporate communication departments. The damage done by the Stephen Lawrence affair and the Hillsborough inquiry (to name but a few) has left the police force in need of some reputation rehab. Rule number one for a good public relations campaign is to make sure the facts upon which it is based are accurate. Orchestrating a PR campaign at blue-light speed against a Cabinet Minister, including the wearing of the much-publicised ‘PC Pleb and Proud’ T-shirts, was based on the assumption that the police evidence was solid. Now that this is seriously in question, the Police Federation is distancing itself from the West Midland, Warwickshire and West Mercia Federations, which are said to have spearheaded the campaign, quicker than one of their Volvo V70 Turbos.

Undoubtedly the Plebgate PR campaign has damaged the police’s reputation and a grudging admission that it will apologise if all the allegations are proved to be fabricated will certainly not enhance it. The Police Federation has been guilty of crimes against PR and is suffering the consequences. Tainted in the past by allegations of covering up and stitching up, they now have to deal with one vast almighty copper-bottomed cock up.

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