It has now been more than two years since “plebgate” (or “gategate” for those of you who read The Week). On 19th September 2012 conservative MP Andrew Mitchell allegedly lost his temper and verbally abused a police officer who had refused to allow him out of a gate in Downing Street. The following day the story was on the front page of The Sun turning it into a political scandal. Trainee Legal Executive Sarah O'Brien gives her view.
Just over a month later, Mitchell decided to resign from his position in the cabinet because of the negative publicity. Inaccuracies in the police reports began to emerge and it was revealed that one police officer (who had not been at the scene) had sent an email claiming to be a member of the public who had witnessed the altercation. There were several investigations into the matter which led to three police officers losing their jobs and one officer being sentenced to a year in prison.
The joint libel case
In March 2013, Mr Mitchell decided to start his libel case against The Sun. His claim rumbled on and in December 2013, PC Rowland (the officer involved in the incident) announced that he intended to sue Mr Mitchell for libel because he had accused PC Rowland of lying.
The joint libel case was eventually heard in the High Court at the end of November 2014. After a two week trial involving 26 witnesses, the case finally ended last week with Andrew Mitchell losing and being ordered to pay costs.
A backhanded compliment?
It seems impossible to imagine a situation in which you would be glad that a judge considered you to be lacking in wit, but in handing down his judgment Mr Justice Mitting announced that he did not believe that the policeman involved in the incident had the wit or imagination to invent such a story. Mr Justice Mitting stated “For the reasons given , I am satisfied, at least on the balance of probabilities that Mr Mitchell did speak the words attributed to him, or so close to them as to amount to the same, the politically toxic word pleb.”
A costly exchange
It has been widely reported that Mr Mitchell could be facing legal bills of up to £3m following the ruling against him. Although these sorts of figures are regularly thrown around, it seems all the more shocking when you remember that it is the consequence of an exchange with a policeman which lasted for less than a minute.