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Plebgate row was ‘fantastic’ in PR terms says former Sun columnist paid £100k by police fed

By Press Gazette

The former Sun columnist who gave PR advice to the Police Federation told MPs that the fallout from the Plebgate row was “absolutely fantastic”.

Former Talksport radio host Gaunt (pictured above) revealed in evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that he was paid around £100,000 for contracts with the national and regional arms of the Police Federation.

And he said he had no regrets over how the scandal involving former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell was handled.

Gaunt advised the Police Federation in the aftermath of the September 2012 incident in which then Tory chief whip swore at a police officer who would not let him ride his bike through the gates of Downing Street.

The police officer is currently suing Mitchell for slander after saying he made up his account of the incident. Mitchell is suing The Sun for libel over its report that he called police officers “plebs”.

Asked by James Clappison MP what his reaction to the "eruption" of the Andrew Mitchell affair was, Gaunt said: "Fantastic."

Gaunt, who worked with the three regional branches of the Police Federation accused of lying about a meeting held with Mitchell in the wake of the scandal, added: "The initial reaction? Absolutely fantastic. Because, obviously the first time we saw it was on the front page of The Sun when the story broke, because it was another piece of publicity we could use to further the campaign for our clients, which was all about the cuts.

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"It would appear it filled the narrative of a government out of touch with the rank and file and the public."

Asked if he had any regrets about the "Plebgate" row, Gaunt said: "I have absolutely no regrets. We ran a very successful campaign, we kept it on the front page of the newspapers for four weeks.

"Clearly, I regret the police officer who went to prison, who lied, who said he was there when he wasn't there, I regret that happened. But we never represented him and if we did represent him I would have told him not to do it."

Gaunt said: "The national Federation decided they wanted to employ us to be more aggressive.

"The person, and I'm going to put this on the record, who orchestrated that… is the present chairman of the Police Federation, was Steve Williams."

Gaunt said he met Mr Williams at the Police Federation headquarters in Leatherhead, Surrey, and agreed the contract.

He said: "He first of all said 'How are we going to do it? We need to get tougher, we need to be more aggressive'. I don't know whether he used the word personal, but more aggressive."

Asked about the use of "guerrilla tactics" described in part of the contract with the national branch of the Police Federation, Gaunt said: "Guerrilla tactics are a bit like above and below-the-line advertising.

"So guerrilla activity was to basically create stories that weren't necessarily attributable right back to the Police Federation. The idea was we would get stories and plant stories all based on fact around the cuts.

"Don't forget this was all about the impact the cuts would have on the general public."

"You would call it spin. Other people would call it the kind of negative lobbying and the negative politics we're going to see as the general election approaches."

Asked about the motivation behind using so-called "guerrilla tactics", Gaunt said: "The object of the exercise was to try and reverse the 20 per cent cuts, which the Police Federation and its members felt was going to put the public in danger."

He added: "When you say why was the guerrilla and blitzkrieg there, I've been straight with you and said we probably put those terms in.

"But it came from a discussion with Mr Williams about him wanting a much more aggressive… I seem to recall him saying we need to go 'toe to toe' with the Government."

Last month, Williams announced his intention to step down from the Police Federation.

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