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November 18, 2014

Plebgate libel trial: Journalists among cast of witnesses who deny Andrew Mitchell would have used word ‘pleb’

By PA Mediapoint

Journalists Matthew d'Ancona and Isabel Oakshott are among a number of high-profile individuals to provide character witness statements for Andrew Mitchell in the Plebgate libel trial today.

Mitchell is suing The Sun for libel over a front-page story which claims he called police officers "fucking Plebs" in a row over riding his bicycle out of the main gate of 10 Downing Street.

D'Ancona said: "Class has been an intermittent issue for the Cameron Government, which has been criticised for allegedly favouring those educated at public school and Oxford or Cambridge.

"The claim that a senior member of the Coalition had used the word 'plebs' in any context would have been damaging. The allegation that it had been used in anger to describe the police was positively toxic.

"I can readily imagine Andrew, frayed at the end of a working day, swearing as he did. But more than a decade of conversations made me deeply sceptical of the claim that he had used the word 'plebs'.

"I simply could not imagine him using such a disgusting and discourteous word, a supposed outburst that would have been at variance with all he believes about social decency and equality of worth."

D'Ancona said he did not believe the "poisonous" claim.

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Former political editor of The Sunday Times Isabel Oakeshott said that, over the years, she had dealt with many unsavoury and duplicitous characters and, as a result, regarded herself a fair judge of character with a well-developed sense for when an individual was lying.

She said: "Whilst he did not behave well on the evening of September 19, my instinct remains that Andrew Mitchell is telling the truth in his account of the events."

Singer Bob Geldof said in a written statement: "We became friends because beyond his qualities as a leader and advocate for the less fortunate, I thought he was a good man. We are an unlikely pair of friends.

"I came from a poor Irish, not particularly well educated background and he does not. I am in fact 'a pleb' and he is not. Never once in all our time did he patronise me, talk down to me, behave in a superior manner to me, deride, insult or dismiss me or my opinions.

"Nor did I ever find in him the preposterous pantomime patrician and frankly Wodehousian superior manner attributed to him in The Sun and others."

Mitchell claims that the story at the centre of the case, which The Sun says is substantially true, meant he was guilty of launching a grossly offensive and arrogant attack at Downing Street police officers.

Painter and decorator Richard Robinson, who worked on Mitchell's house in Nottingham in 1998, also gave evidence.

He said: "It was a big job. It did not always go to schedule with the builders, but he always found time to have a chat with the workers on site when he came up from London and he paid on time.

"When the job was coming to an end he put on a barbecue for all that had worked on the site. That's only happened to me twice in 49 years of working – he did not have to do that.

"When I heard the news last September that Andrew Mitchell had called a police officer a 'pleb' coming out of Downing Street gates, I had to look the word up first and then my thoughts were no way would he have said that to anyone."

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