Andrew Mitchell loses Plebgate libel case against The Sun - judge satisfied he probably did say 'pleb'

Former Government chief whip Andrew Mitchell has lost his High Court libel action against The Sun over the "Plebgate" incident.

Mitchell sued the News UK newspaper for libel last year over a September 2012 story which reported that he called police officers "fucking plebs".

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

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."

Mitchell has been ordered to pay interim costs of £300,000 after he lost the libel action.

Mitchell filed a libel claim against The Sun on 7 March 2013. The paper defended the claim for up to £150,000 citing a “responsible journalism” defence.

Then in September The Sun filed an amended defence, which also included claims that Mitchell had mistreated police officers on different occasions, including calling one officer a “little shit”.

Mitchell’s amended claim, reported exclusively by Press Gazette, saying it should have been obvious to the newspaper that police officers “had a serious axe to grind in wanting to smear a Government Minister”.

The Plebgate trial, in which Pc Rowland is also suing Mitchell over statements he made in the media, started on Monday last week.

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

He said he would never call a policeman a pleb "let alone a fucking pleb" – although he agreed he muttered audibly under his breath 'I thought you lot were supposed to fucking 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 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".

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 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 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 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.

In his ruling Mr Justice Mitting said Pc Rowland was "not the sort of man who would have had the wit, imagination or inclination to invent on the spur of the moment an account of what a senior politician had said to him in temper".

The judge rejected the allegation that there was collusion by the officers on the gate that night.

Steve White, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: "We are pleased that the judge has ruled in Pc Toby Rowland's favour. Toby's name has been cleared and his integrity restored.

"Toby has conducted himself with dignity and professionalism in relation to this incident and subsequent inquiries and legal cases.

"It is important that this incident is now brought to a close to allow Toby and his family to look to the future."

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