Plebgate: Libel case brought to court by MP Andrew Mitchell begins against Sun newspaper

MP Andrew Mitchell has been accused of verbally abusing a police officer

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The Independent Online

A libel case against The Sun newspaper started today after it reported MP Andrew Mitchell allegedly called a policeman "a f****** pleb", which he denies.

The 58-year-old MP for Sutton Coldfield told the High Court that he would never call a policeman a pleb "let alone a f*****g pleb" while he was giving evidence in his libel action against News Group Newspapers (NGN).

The story published in September 2012, which NGN argue is substantially true, reported that he allegedly launched an offensive and arrogant attack at Downing Street police officers two days earlier.

Mr Mitchell told Mr Justice Mitting, who is hearing the case without a jury, that he was in a hurry that evening and was expecting to be allowed through the vehicle gate as he done without difficulty that morning and afternoon.

"I asked to be let out and the officer refused. I pointed out that I had been in and out on several occasions that day and they still refused. I pointed up at my office and said 'I work in number nine'. They still refused. Then I said I was the Government Chief Whip and they still refused."

"As I turned my bike round, I said under my breath but audibly 'I thought you lot were supposed to f*****g help us'."

Mr Mitchell said that Pc Toby Rowland - the officer whose account The Sun's story was based on - told the him that if he swore at him, he would arrest him.

"I was thinking that it was extremely odd that a member of the Diplomatic Protection Group would threaten to arrest one of the three ministers who work in Downing Street. I was also surprised that he said I had sworn at him when I had not."

 

Mr Mitchell, who resigned as chief whip one month after the newspaper report, was asked if he had said what Pc Rowland attributed to the judge: "Best you learn your f*****g place - you don't run this f*****g government - you're f*****g plebs."

He answered: "My Lord, I did not say those words. I would never call a policeman a pleb, let alone a f******g pleb.

"I apologised to the police officer the following day and I apologise to the court. One should not use bad language when dealing with police officers and I apologise unreservedly for doing so."

Cross-examined by Desmond Browne QC, for Pc Rowland - who is suing Mr Mitchell over statements that accused him of fabricating allegations - Mr Mitchell agreed that the chief whip's role required charm and menace and that he could occasionally be abrasive.

Mr Mitchell also agreed that he had a temper - but not that he was quick to lose it - and that he used bad language too much. He said he did not believe that a colleague who knew him well would believe he had called a police officer a "pleb".

The MP's counsel, James Price QC, said that a "web of lies, deceit and indiscipline" by police officers led to a press campaign and public hostility and that the version of the encounter which was leaked to the newspaper by a number of officers was "wholly false".

Mr Price said: "In the end the lies brought Mr Mitchell down, destroying a political career of 27 years."

Mr Browne counter-argued by saying: "Doubtless Mr Mitchell is charming to the officers in his constituency station at Sutton Coldfield when he goes to visit them at Christmas."

Over a two week hearing, the judge will decide the preliminary issues of the meaning of the words complained of and whether they were substantially true.

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