The two police officers at the heart of the latest twist in the increasingly Kafkaesque "Plodgate" affair may have avoided being banged up in the cell underneath Big Ben for being in contempt of parliament. Just.

But their second appearance before a committee of MPs, who were furious at being "misled" by the pair during a previous appearance, was as tortuous and painful as extracting teeth with a claw hammer.

There were two issues which Dept Sgt Stuart Hinton and Sgt Chris Jones were forced to address and which, had they given the wrong answers, could have seen them on the wrong side of a locked cell door.

First and most serious was the suggestion that they had both misled the MPs last month when they gave evidence - Hinton by claiming he did not refer to home secretary Theresa May as "this woman" during a meeting with the fallen government minister Andrew Mitchell, and Jones because he had suggested he had no previous complaints against the latter.

As it turned out, neither was true and had the officers refused to correct the record they would, as committee Keith Vaz explained in great theatrical detail, have been reported to the Commons and then to the privileges committee.

And that is where the real trouble would have started. But they both made statements apologising for inadvertently misleading the committee and insisting it had not been deliberate.

Hinton said he had listened again to a tape of the meeting and agreed he must have been referring to May when he used the expression "this woman". That was inappropriate and he had written to the home secretary to apologise, he said.

Jones said he had misunderstood the original question about his record and confirmed that he had, in fact, been subjected to 13 complaints against him during his long career, with only two resulting in action. He also apologised.

That lifted the immediate threat of contempt of parliament. But there was also a more tortuous, uncomfortable and occasionally fractious part to the session when both men offered an apology, of sorts, to Mitchell.

It was one of those, "I do not believe I did anything wrong but I apologise for the distress he has suffered" apologies of the sort politicians are familiar with.

This all related to the meeting the officers had with Mitchell to discuss the original "Plebgate" affair which saw Mitchell resign as a minister after allegedly swearing at officers at the Downing Street gates when they refused to let him cycle through them. That incident remains under investigation.

Hinton's apology was the most direct. He read a prepared statement declaring: "While the committee appears to believe that we are indifferent to Mr Mitchell's predicament and the distress caused to him and his family since the original incident in Downing Street, we are not. I am not.

"Each of us fully recognises and regrets that fact that such distress has been caused. We share the belief that the investigation into the original incident in Downing Street has already taken a disproportionate period of time and should be resolved in the interests of all parties without delay."

And asked if that was an apology to Mitchell, he said it was, but added: "I cannot apologise for something I have not done".

Jones repeated the same written statement but refused to go any further at all, insisting he, too, could not apologise for something he had not done.

If members of the press and public watching the session were left confused, so were some of the committee members. However, threats of contempt appear to have been lifted and it will now be for yet another inquiry to decide whether the two men did, indeed, do anything wrong.

This still has a very long way to go.