Why the three Plebgate whistleblowers sacked by the Met should be reinstated - Press Gazette

Why the three Plebgate whistleblowers sacked by the Met should be reinstated

The Sun’s Plebgate libel victory kills once and for all the theory that there was a conspiracy by the police to topple Andrew Mitchell.

Judge Mr Justice Mitting described the idea as “absurd”.

So why were three officers sacked for revealing details of a public event, which was not the subject of any criminal investigation and which was clearly in the public interest?

The Operation Alice closing report shows that the policeman at the centre of the Plebgate incident of 19 September 2012, Toby Rowland, was entirely blameless.

Andrew Mitchell called him a “fucking Pleb”, he wrote down a report of the incident immediately afterwards – and may have spoken about it with colleagues – but that was it.

The three officers found to have directly, and indirectly, leaked information to The Sun were all sacked as a result of information illegally obtained from journalists’ telecoms records via the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

I would argue also that they were whistleblowers and that the public has a right to know how cabinet ministers speak to the public servants who are paid to protect them.

But the Met Police perhaps understandably takes a dim view of an internal police log, written by PC  Rowland, finding its way into the hands of the media. PC Rowland would certainly probably be grateful if the log had never leaked.

But the fact remains that the telecoms data which led police to the Plebgate whistleblowers was obtained illegally and should be disregarded.

RIPA was intended to detect and prevent serious crime.

Speaking to a journalist without the permission of your organisation’s press office is not a serious crime.

RIPA was not intended as a tool to ensure the secrecy of the Met Police.

According to the Operation Alice Closing Report PC James Glanville, the officer who initially contacted The Sun with the Plebgate story, was arrested “as a result of the initial analysis of the mobile telephone records from The Sun Political Editor,  Mr Tom Newton Dunn, which showed a series of contacts by text and voice calls between the two over several days”.

So this was evidence which was obtained in clear breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human rights, which protects journalists’ sources as part of the right to freedom of expression.

PC Gillian Weatherley had no direct contact with The Sun, but she sent Glanville a picture of PC Rowland's account of the Plebgate incident which he then sent to Newton Dunn.

Weatherley insists in the Operation Alice report that she had no idea Glanville was in contact with The Sun.

It was the arrest of Glanville which led police to Weatherley. So her sacking should also be rescinded because it is based on illegally obtained information.

Disclosures made as part of The Sun’s Plebgate libel defence led the Met Police to request the telecoms logs of calls made to The Sun newsdesk between 8am and 8.45am on 20 September, 2012.

The Sun said that a “a tourist” called the newsdesk at this time.

“She did not seek nor was she offered payment. She did not leave a name or number but described how she had been at Downing Street the previous night and  and heard the Claimant saying to police officers, ‘You’re fucking morons – you think you run the country, well you don’t.’"

Apart from substituting the word pleb for moron, this statement chimes with the PC Rowland account.

Police analysis of calls made to The Sun newsdesk led them to Member of the Public 6 who called the paper from their place of work, Hitchenbrooke Hospital. This nurse shared a property with PC Susie Johnson.

Johnson was also fired from her job in the police.

Again she was only identified as potential indirect source for The Sun as a result of information which was obtained by the police illegally.

Mitchell’s outburst outside Downing Street was evidently the talk of the office. There is considerable evidence that he has previous for this sort of thing.

Officers felt the public should know about it and the result was that information being leaked to The Sun.

The fact that three have been sacked for doing just that means that the next time there is an incident like Plebgate the public are highly unlikely to find out about it and our democracy is now poorer as a result.



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette