POLITICS

Andrew Mitchell Loses Libel Action Over 'Plebgate'

27/11/2014 15:24 GMT | Updated 27/11/2014 18:59 GMT
Peter Macdiarmid via Getty Images
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17: Andrew Mitchell leaves the High Court on November 17, 2014 in London, England. Former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell is suing News Group Newspapers, publishers of The Sun, after it reported that he had called police officers plebs during an altercation at the gates of Downing Street in 2012. Mr Mitchell had to resign as Chief Whip at the time. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Former government chief whip Andrew Mitchell has lost his High Court libel action over the "Plebgate" incident.

He sued News Group Newspapers (NGN) over a September 2012 story in the Sun which he said meant he was guilty of launching a grossly offensive and arrogant attack on Downing Street police officers who refused to allow him to cycle through the main vehicle gates, branding them "f****** plebs".

NGN based its report, which it said was substantially true, on the account given in his log by Pc Toby Rowland.

Mitchell has been ordered to pay interim costs of £300,000 by early January.

Giving his ruling, Mr Justice Mitting said: "For the reasons given I am satisfied at least on the balance of probabilities that Mr Mitchell did speak the words alleged or something so close to them as to amount to the same including the politically toxic word pleb."

The officer claimed statements made by the 58-year-old MP for Sutton Coldfield from December 2012 onwards falsely suggested he had fabricated his allegations.

But Mr Mitchell, who resigned as whip a month after the altercation, denied saying: "Best you learn your f****** place - you don't run this f****** government - you're f****** plebs."

He said he would never call a policeman a pleb "let alone a f****** pleb" - although he agreed he muttered audibly under his breath 'I thought you lot were supposed to f****** help us' - but not at the officer.

He was in a hurry to get to the Carlton Club that evening and was expecting to be let through as he had been without difficulty that morning and after lunch.

He thought it "extremely odd" when Pc Rowland issued him with a warning under the Public Order Act, but apologised to the officer for his language the next day.

mitchell sun

Mr Mitchell agreed that the chief whip's role required a mixture of charm and menace and that he could occasionally be abrasive, but said he did not merit the "extraordinary tsunami of vitriol which descended on my head over a prolonged period of time".

His counsel, James Price QC, said a "web of lies, deceit and indiscipline" by police officers led to a press campaign and public hostility and the version of the encounter which was leaked to the newspaper by a number of officers was "wholly false".

Mr Price said: "In the end, the lies brought Mr Mitchell down, destroying a political career of 27 years."

Statements supplied in court by a range of people, from musician Bob Geldof to painter and decorator Richard Robinson, showed he was not a "Tory toff", who would think of putting someone down because of their class, social background or occupational status by use of a "toxic and class-laden" expression like pleb.

But Desmond Browne QC, for Pc Rowland, claimed Mr Mitchell was a "Jekyll and Hyde" character whose capacity for menace found its outlet in foul temper and foul language.

He said the MP was regularly let through the vehicle gates, in the face of the security policy, because of the "unpleasant fuss" he made.

Pc Rowland said he did not know who Mr Mitchell was when he saw the "agitated" MP having a disagreement with a fellow officer and went to speak to him.

"I was perfectly calm, perfectly polite. It is quite common to have disagreements about entrances and times people can come and go."

He claimed that members of the public were within earshot and visibly shocked when Mr Mitchell swore, which prompted the "correct, proportionate and very necessary" warning.

He denied that his account was an invention to "cover my arse" and justify giving a Cabinet minister a warning, maintaining that he recorded exactly what happened when it was fresh in his mind.

Mitchell said he was "bitterly disappointed by the result of the judgement today. This has been a miserable two years. But we now need to bring this matter to a close and to move on with our lives."

"Today represents vindication for The Sun and its journalists," Stig Abell, the Sun’s managing editor said in a statement afterwards. "We’ve always stood by our story and continue to do so. We’re delighted that the judge has ruled that what we reported about evidence on Downing Street and the evening in questions was the truth, and accurate.

"There’s been a lot of speculation and comment about Mitchell’s outburst and criticism of our newspaper. This judgment today lays all that to rest. Our article broke the important public interest story and it has been independently and conclusively confirmed today. The Sun can be proud of its journalism.

"More importantly, today marks a victory for all journalism. We now live in a world where the task of uncovering what goes on in our institutions has never been more difficult. It is the job of journalists to shine light into the dark corners of public and political life. There are many in the establishment who do not wish us to do so.

"A mute press does not serve the public interest, it only serves the interests of the political classes. Today this verdict has endorsed the values of a robust and irreverent journalism and we’re absolutely delighted with the result."

PC Rowland read a statement outside court, saying he was not speaking on behalf of the Met. "It is a huge regret that what happened at the gates of Downing Street more than two years ago has ended up here," he said.

"It should be pointed out that I and my team tried everything possible to stop the need for court action. Even before this trial began, I had already been cleared of any wrong-dong by four expensive, wide-reaching investigations, including criminal ones.

"I’m delighted here again my innocence, my integrity and my reputation as a police officer has been recognised. The pain myself and my family have been through is indescribable. And it is particularly saddening because I was merely following procedures, I was doing my job without fear or favour.

"I also recognise how difficult this must have been for Mr Mitchell’s family and I hope now that a line can be drawn and everyone can be left in peace."

Conservative MP David Davis, a friend of Andrew Mitchell’s who came to support him in court, said he was "disappointed and shocked by the judgment" and described the former minister as a "good man brought down".

Former Tory MP Louise Mensch tweeted: "A civil case is a civil case; no way do I believe Andrew at any time used the word "pleb" to police officers. A shocking result."