Andrew Mitchell (“Plebgate” libel case)

In Mitchell v News Group Newspapers Limited [2014] EWHC 4014 (QB) (27 November 2014) Mr Justice Warby at an earlier Hearing on the 24th July 2014 had made an order that both cases arising out of the same incident, commonly referred to as “plebgate”, which involved an altercation between Andrew Mitchell MP and Police Officers at the Downing Street main gates, should be tried together before a Judge but without a Jury on the 17th November 2014 lasting approximately 7-12 days and that the trial should be of those certain preliminary issues in the actions.

On the 27th November 2014, Mr Justice Mitting on looking closely and in great detail at the evidence before him from Mr Mitchell, the Police Officers and experts, ruled that he was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Mr Mitchell did say the words or similar words that had been alleged by the Police Officers, which PC Rowland said were”best you learn your ***** place…you don’t run this ***** government … you’re **** plebs”. Mr Mitchell had denied saying the words.

Over a 7 day period Mr Justice Mitting listened to evidence provided by 26 witnesses from which he drew the conclusion that the words were most likely to have been said by the Mr Mitchell. He considered Mr Mitchell’s conduct “childish” after hearing how he acted when the main gates were opened by the officers for him to leave. Mr Justice Mitting ruled that Mr Mitchell had lost his temper and which, because of this behaviour, can lead to “loss of inhibition in speaking and imperfect recollection” and therefore his state of mind was such that he would be unable to be careful with his choice of words and also remember what he had said at the time of the confrontation. Further Mr Justice Mitting found that the CCTV did not correspond with Mr Mitchell’s version of events.

On looking at PC Rowland’s version of events Mr Justice Mitting did not believe that he would possess the “wit” to invent on the “spur of the moment what a senior politician said to him”. The Judge further accepted the evidence given by both PC Richardson and PC Weatherley, who were also at the altercation.

Mr Justice Mitting, however, would not enter judgment for the Sun Newspaper and PC Rowland. He allowed Mr Mitchell a further 14 days to assess how he was to proceed and at the same time prepare an undertaking. He did, however, make an order for costs against Mr Mitchell.

The Police Federation after the case issued a statement “We are pleased that the judge has ruled in PC Toby Rowland’s favour. Toby’s name has been cleared and his integrity restored. Toby has conducted himself with dignity and professionalism in relation to this incident and subsequent enquiries and legal cases. It is important that this incident is now brought to a close to allow Toby and his family to look to the future.”

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