Former chief whip Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative MP at the centre of the ‘plebgate’row, is to sue The Sun for libel – and his lawyer has confirmed that other UK newspapers could also face legal action.
Mitchell’s lawyer Graham Atkins confirmed the paper had sent the paper a letter before action – formal notice that the MP, who was forced to stand down as chief whip over the affair, intends to sue.
The Sun broke the story in September in a front page claiming Mitchell called officers who refused him permission to ride his bicycle through the gates of Downing Street “fucking plebs”.
Despite vehemently denying the claims the story was picked up by other nationals, and appeared to be backed by a police log leaked to the Daily Telegraph and later published in full.
In December Channel 4 News aired previously unreleased CCTV footage of Mitchell from the night of the incident in September suggesting the row that engulfed Mitchell was fuelled by a police officer posing as a member of the public who falsely claimed to have witnessed the events.
The officer is said to have written to his local MP John Randall – who was also Mitchell’s deputy in the government whips' office – giving details of the chief whip's alleged behaviour when he was blocked from cycling out of the main gates in Downing Street.
After the new evidence emerged Mitchell said the episode had “shaken my lifelong support and confidence in the police” and called for a full inquiry,
Since then four arrests have been made in relation to an investigation by the Met.
Atkins said his client was seeking “damages, an apology, an undertaking that the words complained of are not repeated and costs”, and confirmed that action could be taken against other newspapers that republished the ‘pleb’ claims.
He added that The Daily Telegraph was “not necessarily” one of the papers that could face action.
Atkins added that certain individuals involved in the campaign against Mitchell and/or involved in the police investigation may be "subject to a libel complaint".
Appearing on Channel 4’s Dispatches last night, Mitchell revealed that he only asked to see the closed circuit footage of the altercation with police at the main gates of Downing Street on the day he resigned, 19 October, but was not shown it for nearly three weeks.
"It was quite a frustrating experience," he said.
Mitchell was told he could not have a copy for national security reasons and it took almost a month before that decision was reversed.
"I do not think the arguments about national security were genuine, no," he told the programme.
He added: "I do not think that the release of the CCTV affects national security."
The Sutton Coldfield MP believes the footage, along with the now disputed email purporting to be an eyewitness account of the event, would have quickly cleared his name if Downing Street had agreed to its release at the time.
"Well I think that, had the CCTV been released earlier, together with the email, I think that it would have been discovered quite early on that something was quite seriously wrong with this and I suppose, had that happened, I might still be in Government today."
Of suggestions initial briefing notes were altered to include the word pleb, he said: "I understand that two of the three poisonous phrases are in it, but whether there were two or three or one, whether it was done within one minute or an hour or three hours of the incident at the gate, it is wholly and totally untrue."
Mitchell admits swearing in the presence of police but has always denied using the word “pleb”.