A young man comes unstuck. Tanked up on ale and buoyed by youthful exuberance he leaves the pub. The scene outside is one of confusion. Two police officers take another man to the floor and pin him down. Our boy doesn’t know what led to this situation but his alcohol fuelled confidence leads to assumed conclusions based on limited facts. He loses control, runs over and berates the officers for being out of order. “Leave him alone. He’s done f’ all wrong you bastards”. The disturbance and the arrival of further police cars with sirens wailing has drawn a crowd. Our man continues to rant and swear. Other officers now in attendance ask him to shut up and leave. They gently steer him away from the officers restraining the violent male on the floor. He resists this and pushes against the officers, gesticulating toward the arrest and hurls abuse. “You’re all f’ing bent. Police abuse. F’ing wankers the lot of you”. It continues. The officer in front of him has heard this a thousand times before but it is clear the polite requests to desist are failing. The conclusion is slowly drawn and our young man, who is normally a sensible chap, finds himself in cuffs, in a van and soon enough in a cell to sleep it off.
In the House of Commons the following day the Prime Minister, older, wiser, sober and the leader of our country, in a heated debate, loses control and refers to an opposition colleague as a blithering idiot.
A few weeks later in a “Do you know who I am?” manner the Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell shows utter contempt for police officers at the gate of 10 Downing Street. He talks down to them, belittles their position, loses control and is downright offensive to them.
One leads to an arrest and a fixed penalty notice for s5 of the public order act. One leads to a bit of political comment and not much more and the other leads to a political hot potato that seems set to roll on for days yet.
Having spent many years in custody I have seen perfect s5 arrests and I have seen dreadful ones. The former lead to the appropriate disposal and the latter to a swift release from custody. It is often the case that the grounds for someone’s detention are quite acceptable and only in the cold light of day when the evidence is reviewed are flaws noticed or question marks raised.
It is obvious that one officers tolerance will vary from the next. The law remains the same but discretion varies widely. As a young officer I was criticised for not making enough arrests by the Supt. He told me that drunks were easy to lock up and I should get on with it. I challenged this and told him I spoke to people, gained cooperation where I could and sent them on their way home. This meant custody was clearer, I was still free to deal with other matters and somebody wasn’t criminalised for being daft. He went off like a bottle of pop! I determined there and then that no matter what rank, no senior officer would ever speak to me like that again.
In each an every situation is a case of unacceptable behaviour. I generally have quite a thick skin. I take a lot of abuse in custody and its water off a ducks back. The police are expected to tolerate foul abuse much more than the general public. We come into contact with it every day and DPP v Orum  3 All ER 449 makes this quite clear.
So the offence in scenario one is made out. Members of the public were present and our young man was given repeated opportunities to be quiet and leave but failed to do so.
Do the actions of Mr Cameron, Mr Mitchell and my old Supt fall within it? No. Not at all. What they do is show a lack of control. They show that when under pressure many of us revert to type.
Mr Mitchell states he lost his temper at the end of a “long and extremely frustrating day.” I understand that Mr Cameron has said he was being goaded and responded as such. My Supt in the other hand had no excuse, no management skills and proceeded as a bully.
The mark of a true professional is the one who can keep a cool head notwithstanding the provocation. As a police officer this is expected and demanded of me. I cannot be offensive to a member of the public and blame it on a bad day. I expect our senior politicians who can walk the walk and talk the talk to do the same. They have no excuse when they fall into aggressive verbal retaliation. When provoked I expect them to show even more restraint not less!!
Mr Mitchell’s comments were inappropriate. I’m sure the officers were shocked at what they heard from him rather than harassed, alarmed or distressed. It’s not a public order offence and those calling for such should desist. Mitchell has apologised and the officer is reported to have accepted it. No doubt with a bit of pressure from above.
What this incident actually shows is a total lack of courtesy and the superior mindset that some people acquire when in a position of power (yes even some police officers). That is what is dangerous and that is why his position is untenable.
Speculation it may be, but if the roles were reversed our police officer would now be being disciplined and moved to a posting in the back of beyond miles away from home.
Clearly, by supporting Andrew Mitchell, Mr Cameron is condoning the superiority mindset and proving the saying;
“Don’t do as I do. Do as I say.”