The Sun outlines responsible journalism defence against Andrew Mitchell's £150k plebgate libel action

The Sun is “vigorously” defending its ‘plebgate’ story, which Andrew Mitchell is suing the paper for up to £150,000 over.

The newspaper claimed last September that Mitchell, MP for Sutton Coldfield, called police officers “fucking plebs” when they would not let him take his bicycle through the main gate onto Downing Street.

He has denied the paper’s “serious and offensive” allegation, which he has claimed was written in a way to present him as “inexorably guilty”.

Mitchell claims the paper knew he had denied launching “such a tirade” before publication.

The ‘plebgate’ story was published on 21 September 2012, two days after the alleged incident. Less than a month later, Mitchell resigned as chief whip of the Government – a position he had taken up on 4 September.

Despite Mitchell’s denial, The Sun has not issued an apology and is fighting the libel claims made against it.

A spokesperson told Press Gazette: "The Sun reported a story of considerable public interest in a responsible and professional manner. 

“As can be seen from the company's defence recently filed at Court, we continue to defend Mr Mitchell's claims vigorously and we have nothing further to add."

In the claim form, seen by Press Gazette, The Sun said that all facts were “true in substance and in fact”.

The newspaper said the story was based on two unsolicited telephone calls – one on the evening of 19 September, and one on 20 September. It said neither caller sought or was offered payment.

Both callers originally spoke to reporters. The first, who claimed Mitchell had used the words “fucking plebs”, was then passed on to speak to political editor Tom Newton Dunn.

Newton Dunn shared the claims, including quotes, with the Prime Minister’s director of communications in Downing Street, Craig Oliver. It is claimed that Newton Dunn also texted Mitchell asking him to call back urgently.

The Sun claims Mitchell did not respond to Newton Dunn, instead releasing a statement through Oliver. It said: “On Wednesday night I attempted to leave Downing Street via the main gate, something I have been allowed to do many times before.

“I was told that I was not allowed to leave that way. While I do not accept that I used the words that have been reported, I accept I did not treat the police with the respect they deserve.

“I have seen the supervising Sergeant and apologised, and will also apologise to the police officer involved.”

According to The Sun, Oliver told Newton Dunn that Mitchell denied using the specific words “fucking plebs”, but “would not deny this on the record”.

The Sun claimed the story was in the public interest because of Mitchell’s prominent Government position, and also highlighted the fact that the day before the alleged incident, two woman police officers had been murdered on duty in Manchester.

In December, three months after the incident and two months after Mitchell stood down as chief whip, CCTV evidence emerged casting police reports on the incident into doubt.

Since then six people, including four police officers, have been arrested as part of the investigation into the incident.

Mitchell has not responded to Press Gazette’s request for a comment.

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