The Sun has filed an amended defence to Andrew Mitchell's Plebgate libel claim, alleging that the former chief whip once referred to an officer as "a little shit".
Mitchell, Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield, filed a claim for up to £150,000 last March after The Sun reported in a September 2012 front page story that he had called police "fucking plebs" after they wouldn't let him wheel his bicycle through the gates of Downing Street.
Mitchell described the allegation as "serious and offensive" in his claim form and said it was written to present him as "inexorably guilty". He also said that the paper was aware before publication that he denied using the words attributed to him.
The Sun filed a defence last May in which it “vigorously” defended the story saying that all the facts were “true in substance and in fact”.
And an amended defence filed in the High Court this month includes a number of other alleged confrontations between Mitchell and police.
The amended defence said: “[Mitchell] had on various occasions been rude and high handed towards police officers, used offensive or inappropriate language in dealing with them, and had shown a cavalier attitude to security. [Mitchell] had thereby demonstrated that he had little or no respect for the British police and holds them in very poor regard."
- In November 2005, when Mitchell was barred from entering Black Rod’s Garden through the Corus entrance, he allegedly told a PC: “I’m a Member of Parliament and I’m too important to stop for you." When the officer responded that he didn’t “care who you are, I requested you to stop,” Mitchell is claimed to have said: “Stop being so aggressive, you little shit.”
- In 2005 and 2006 Mitchell is said to have become known as a “regular offender” for refusing to have his car searched before entering areas around Westminster.
- On an unknown date, a PC Ham prevented Mitchell from taking two non-passholder women through the Carriage Gates at the Palace of Westminster. When the MP was told they would have to go through the visitors’ entrance to be searched, Mitchell is alleged to have said: “You mustn’t impede me, I’m a member.”
- On two occasions in May 2011 Mitchell is alleged to have attempted to enter Downing Street without the correct form of identification. The officers did not recognise him. On both occasions Mitchell said he was late for meetings, the defence said. On the second occasion, he allegedly said: “This is too much of an inconvenience, let me in I am late for a meeting with the Prime Minister, or I will make a complaint.” Police reportedly did let him through when Iain Duncan Smith MP and Dowing Street custodians, using CCTV, confirmed his identity. As he entered, Mitchell “said words to the effect of”: “Don’t you think you have heard the last of this, I am going to make a complaint to the commissioner – I’ve got your numbers.”
- There were said to be two more occasions in June 2011 when Mitchell coming through entrances to Downing Street told officers “Let me in, I’m a Cabinet Minister”, “chop chop” and “Always helps if you do this as rapidly as possible – we’re all in a hurry”.
- In a meeting with John Groves, head of security and business continuity in the Prime Minister’s office, to discuss access policy to the area, Mitchell allegedly said: “They [referring to the police officers on the Downing Street gates] should have fucking known who I was” – or “words to that effect”. He also allegedly swore in a second meeting with Groves and warned he could make a formal complaint to the commissioner.
- On a 2011 official visit to Kenya, Mitchell is said to have stated that he “should be treated like royalty” by accompanying police officers. When he was told that some officers had arrived early to carry out a security recce he allegedly suggested they had presumably been “sunning themselves by the pool for four days”. He is also said to have told an officer in response to a suggestion: “This is a bit above you pay grade Mr Plod.”
The defence also claimed that there were a number of disagreements in the run-up to the Plebgate incident of September 2012.
On 19 September 2012, Mitchell is alleged to have said: “Best you learn your fucking place… you don’t run this fucking government… you’re fucking plebs…”
After the incident, witnessed by PC Rowland, the amended defence claims that the oficer told colleagues what had occurred, reported the incident to his Base Sergeant, PS Mills, checked with Number 10 to confirm the identity of Mitchell and noted down what the MP had said “while the words were fresh in his mind”.
Rowland finished his shift at 8.15pm, 40 minutes after seeing Mitchell, finished his notes and composed an email based on the notes and sent this to his superiors at 9.22pm.
The defence says that Rowland phoned 10 Downing Street on 21 September and spoke to Mitchell, “who apologised to him regarding the incident at the gates of Downing Street on 19 September 2012. [Mitchell] was not, in fact, sorry for his conduct, and the apology was therefore not sincere”.
In the original defence, The Sun said the story was based on two unsolicited telephone calls – one of 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.
Mitchell stood down as chief whip following the Plebgate scandal.
Three officers have been sacked by the Metropolitan Police after they were accused of directly and indirectly passing information to journalists.
And it emerged earlier this month that the Met had used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to obtain the phone records of Newton Dunn and The Sun newsdesk to expose the sources.
PC Rowland is also suing Mitchell for slander for £200,000 after the MP alleged that the officer had invented phrases which appeared in the police log.
Press Gazette has asked Mitchell if he would like to comment. His lawyer told Press Gazette an amended reply has been filed.