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  1. Media Law
November 17, 2014updated 18 Nov 2014 6:44pm

Police ‘web of lies’ led to ‘vitriolic press campaign’ against Andrew Mitchell, Plebgate trial hears

By PA Mediapoint

A "web of lies, deceit and indiscipline" by police officers led to former government chief whip Andrew Mitchell and his family being subjected to an extended and vitriolic press campaign, the High Court has heard.

James Price QC was opening Mitchell's libel action against News Group Newspapers (NGN) over a September 2012 story in The Sun which the MP says meant that he was guilty of launching a grossly offensive and arrogant attack at Downing Street police officers two days earlier, branding them "fucking plebs" and "morons".

Mitchell sat in front of his counsel as he told Mr Justice Mitting, who is hearing the case in London without a jury, that what the MP was alleged to have said was a "gross caricature of an attitude of mind which has been out of date for decades".

He said that the detail of the encounter which was leaked to the newspaper by a number of officers was "wholly false".

"This web of lies, deceit and indiscipline, and by police officers, led to Mr Mitchell and his family being subjected to an extremely unpleasant, indeed vitriolic, press campaign and a good deal of hostility from the public who believed what they had read in the press.

"It also placed him in a position where he required considerable determination and, above all, confidence in the rightness of his position, to stand by his account of events."

NGN argues that the article was substantially true and, at the heart of its case, is the account given by Pc Toby Rowland.

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He claims that Mitchell, having demanded but been denied the right to leave on his bicycle by the main Downing Street gates, lost his temper and said: "Best you learn your fucking place – you don't run this fucking government – you're fucking plebs."

The 58-year-old MP for Sutton Coldfield, who resigned as whip a month after the incident, denies "demanding" to be allowed to use the main gates, losing his temper or using the words attributed to him – although he admits swearing.

He says that he asked politely to use the main gates and muttered under his breath: "I thought you guys were supposed to fucking help us".

Both sides agree that Pc Rowland, who is with the Met's Diplomatic Protection Group, heard Mitchell swear and issued him with a verbal warning that if he did so again, he would be arrested.

Price said that, whether the officers on the gates were in truth being obstructive or officious or not, Mitchell accepted, and had always accepted, that he should not have sworn, and for that he had apologised.

Pc Rowland is suing Mitchell over statements he made in the media from December 2012 onwards and at a press conference in November 2013.

The officer complains that Mitchell accused him of fabricating allegations and evidence against the MP while the officer denies that he has done any such thing. The essence of Mitchell's defence is that what he said was true.

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

Price said one of the officers on the gate had described the incident as a minor altercation and said the matter should be closed, given its trivial nature.

But the matter blew up because a police officer, who was not present, leaked it to The Sun while another officer, who was on the gate, passed Pc Rowland's written account of the incident to the informant, who in turn passed it on to the newspaper.

Another officer who was in Downing Street that day passed an account of the incident to another police constable, who leaked it to her girlfriend and persuaded her to telephone The Sun, falsely claiming to have witnessed the incident as a tourist outside the gates.

Yet another officer, who was not at Downing Street that evening, sent an email the nest day to Mitchell's deputy chief whip, pretending to be another tourist outside the gate and to have heard Mitchell calling the officers "fucking plebs".

"Wholly false", said counsel.

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