Article originally written for the Police Oracle and republished on Plod Blog for wider enjoyment…..
It’s 10.17pm on Saturday 24th November 1990. Sheffield’s Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham, one of the finest boxers Britain has ever produced, is about to win the much revered WBC World Middleweight title. His opponent, Julian Jackson, whose left eye is completely closed (one vision:)), hasn’t laid a glove on Graham in three rounds. The doctor enters the ring, examines Jackson, and the referee tells him he has one round maximum before he stops the fight. Bomber Graham is easily the best defensive boxer in the middleweight division, he is one minute way from the title he has trained for all his life. All he has to do is keep his head down, continue to be professional, keep his class and carry on with his stick and jab tactics.
At 10.18pm Graham is star-fished on the canvas unconscious. That image is burned into my memory and continues to be one of the most frustrating things I have ever witnessed. There could be no logical reason for thinking that was a good time to lose your class and go in swinging.
Carnoustie, Scotland, 6.42pm Sunday July 18th 1997. Jean Van de Velde is standing over his ball, it’s in the rough but he’s been fortunate and it’s a good lie. He’s got shots in hand and they’re already engraving his name on the Claret Jug. Jean Van de Velde is about to be the Open Champion. All he has to do is keep his class, continue to be professional and lay up in front of Barry Burn with a short iron and his name will be etched in the history books for ever.
At 6.44pm Van de Velde is rolled-up-trouser deep in the burn and his life’s dream is over. For reasons that will never be satisfactorily explained he thought that the rough on the 18th with shots in hand was a good time to attack and he reached for a 2 iron….
Two of the most stunning examples of attacking at the wrong time and grasping defeat from the jaws of victory.
I want to ride my bicycle
London,10am Friday 21st September 2012. Recently appointed Tory Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell, is forced to apologise to police officers for being “disrespectful” to them at the Downing Street main gate two days earlier. He disputed some of the words used but without doubt was apologising, and without doubt had embarrassed himself, his party and the Prime Minister. An opportunity had dropped in to the lap of the police to gain a rare victory over a government that had been twisting the knife for a few years. All we had to do was to keep our composure, be professional, accept the apology with grace and allow ourselves a gloat from the moral high ground.
Twenty six months later, newspaper leaks, 8 people arrested and bailed including 5 police officers, 3 dismissed officers (one criminally charged and subsequently imprisoned – rightly so), a whole enquiry team of detectives on Operation Alice pulled from daily business, Commons Select Committee appearances, CPS ditherings, even calls for the Met Commissioner’s resignation….. and the purulent scandal that is Plebgate still festers on with no end in sight.
I want it all and I want it now.
Why? Because we lost our class, lost our professionalism and decided to come out swinging and attack at the wrong time. We ‘refuse to accept your apology Mitchell’, ‘we demand your resignation’ and if we have to do a bit of wheeling and dealing to make it happen so be it. Over the coming weeks and months the police quite spectacularly managed to turn Mitchell the Perpetrator into Mitchell the Victim. Managed to turn victory into defeat and in the process discredit 10’s of 1000’s of officers on the front line for no good reason. The cops on the street suddenly had a more difficult role.
Congratulations Plebgate you made my top 3 all-time list of embarrassing defeats that should have been victories.
Another one bites the dust.
Mitchell had to resign of course and the reason is pretty clear – not even his politician mates believed him either. To me that speaks volumes seeing as they knew him better than anybody. They didn’t care which gate he left out of as long as he cleared his tray and left the premises.
The Tories must have been kicking themselves because all this could have been avoided if they’d had simply voted for cycle lanes for the privileged.
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
The whole incident was shockingly mismanaged from the very start. Now this question goes out to the cops on the streets out there. The proper ones working 24/7 – in a world where a meal-break and finishing on time are just folk-lore stories handed down from previous generations.
You’re on public order foot-patrol in the town centre tonight and some silly toff comes up and tells you you’re a “xxxxxxx pleb”. Now I know we were told to be collectively offended and all that but tell me honestly just how upset would you really be? Bear in mind there are no members of public in earshot.
Would you (a) be very upset and start official logs and demand satisfaction or (b) Tell the stuck-up xxxx to get off his bike and push it through the correct gate before you shove the bicycle pump up his xxxx and marched him through yourself?
I have to be honest and say I’m going for (b).
Too late. A log has been created so it’s now official.
Here’s a question for the Sergeants. The proper Sergeants not the keyboard warriors like me but the ones out there in the thick of it making those sensible decisions that keep the cart on the wheels.
Okay Sarge you’re on late turn when one of your PC’s come up and says “Sergeant one of those politician blokes has just called me an xxxxxxx pleb”.
Do you (a) say this is very VERY serious, clearly your feelings have been hurt and this incident needs escalating”.
Or (b) say “Oh dear that’s not very nice, my gaffer will have a word with his gaffer now put your big hat back on and get back to that gate there’s a good lad”.
I’m going for (b) again. I’ll scribble a few backside covering lines on the log, close it as ‘confidential’ with ‘authorised viewing only’ and the job’s a good ‘un.
But no, that’s far too simple and this Plebgate baby’s now starting to roll.
Then the press leaks started. I do remember them saying at police training school that leaking info to the press is a smidgeon naughty (flouting the Official Secrets Act or something…). Although, to be fair that led to the Mitchell apology, which in turn led to the perfect time for us to walk away and savour the victory.
Don’t stop me now
Alas no. It snowballed out of control, lots of people chose to be offended on other people’s behalves, lots chose to get angry. No-one overseeing ever got a firm grip and this silly little thing was allowed to become the most damaging and discrediting police scandal for years.
It all got very confusing and witness evidence was swinging one way then the other. The enquiry team even received a statement from the gate itself now denying it was ever there at the time.
This was starting to get very messy and before long soon swallowed up three police officers and one political career – although it’s widely tipped that Mitchell will one day return as minister for cycling proficiency.
No time for losers
Bomber Graham never won that middleweight title. Van de Velde never won the Open and we will never rescue a victory from Plebgate. Okay, PC Rowland was vindicated in the November High Court libel action (Mitchell v News Group Newspapers) when Mr Justice Mitting said he was satisfied that the MP did say the word “pleb” – but nobody was really paying much attention because the damage had already been done a long time ago.
Do I think he used the word pleb? Honestly? I couldn’t care less – I’ve worked the streets of Scunthorpe for 18 years and if the worst thing to happen in a 10 hour shift is to be called an ‘xxxxxxx pleb’ – pretty good day at the office!