Reconstruction costs risk ‘spinning out of control’ in Plebgate case

An expert has made a 3D mock-up based on CCTV pictures

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The Independent Online

It was an exchange that lasted just 59 syllables and fewer seconds but sent relations between police and Government into deep freeze.

More than two years on, the Downing Street dispute that brought down former chief whip Andrew Mitchell will be reignited next month amid a battery of scientific analysis,  with the most expensive and detailed public reconstruction of the “Plebgate” saga.

Computer reconstructions based on CCTV images of the night are part of a £150,000 expert witness bill for the potentially explosive libel trial centred on the MP’s angry exchange with protection officer PC Toby Rowland.

Mr Mitchell quit his job after being accused of using the toxic phrase “Pleb” during the incident that was leaked to The Sun newspaper. The episode threw the Metropolitan police into turmoil and led to one officer being jailed over claims of a plot to unseat a government minister.

The MP has always denied using the phrase but yesterday lost an early legal battle to strike out accounts of a string of alleged angry clashes with police officers before the infamous Downing Street spat.

Mr Mitchell has been accused of a pattern of insulting and high-handed behaviour on 16 occasions dating back to 2005, including times when he allegedly called one officer a “little shit” and another that his comments were a “bit above your pay grade, Mr Plod”, the High Court heard.

His legal team claimed the former minister was unfairly hampered from countering incidents that he could not remember but a judge yesterday ruled that the majority could be used during the case.

But the case will centre on witness accounts and analysis of grainy CCTV images of the incident on 19 September 2012. They have been the subject of detailed examination costing tens of thousands of pounds that Mr Justice Warby has warned risked “spinning out of control”.

One expert, who has previously worked on reconstructions including the police shooting of Mark Duggan in 2011, has created a 3D mock-up based on CCTV pictures, timings and distances, the High Court heard.

Experts in phonetics from the universities of York and Pennsylvania have been employed to assess whether Mr Mitchell had the time to say the words that brought him down during the encounter. Authorities on field of vision will also give evidence on the credibility of PC Rowland’s claims that members of public reacted with shock to Mr Mitchell’s outburst.

James Price QC, for Mr Mitchell, said there was not a “snowball’s chance in hell” that PC Rowland could have seen the expressions on the faces of three people caught on camera crossing in front of the Downing Street entrance.

Mr Mitchell is suing News Group Newspapers and in turn faces defamation proceedings brought by PC Rowland, who he accused of making up his account. Mr Mitchell admits swearing but denies using the toxic phrase that led to his downfall.

Mr Mitchell is expected to call on the backing of Tory grandee Lord Coe and Lord Turner, former head of the CBI.