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Mitchell: I didn't call Pc 'pleb'

Former Government Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell has told the High Court that he would never call a policeman a pleb "let alone a f*****g pleb".

The 58-year-old MP for Sutton Coldfield, who resigned as whip a month after the "Plebgate" incident, was giving evidence in his libel action against News Group Newspapers (NGN).

He says that a September 2012 story in The Sun, which NGN say is substantially true, meant he was guilty of launching a grossly offensive and arrogant attack at Downing Street police officers two days earlier, branding them "f*****g plebs" and "morons".

Mr Mitchell told Mr Justice Mitting, who is hearing the case without a jury, that he was in a hurry that evening and was expecting to be let through the vehicle gate as he had been without difficulty that morning and after lunch.

"I asked to be let out and the officer refused. I pointed out that I had been in and out on several occasions that day and they still refused. I pointed up at my office and said 'I work in number nine'. They still refused. Then I said I was the Government Chief Whip and they still refused."

"As I turned my bike round, I said under my breath but audibly 'I thought you lot were supposed to f*****g help us'."

Mr Mitchell said that immediately, Pc Toby Rowland - the officer whose account the newspaper's story was based on - told the MP that if he swore at him, he would arrest him .

"I was thinking that it was extremely odd that a member of the Diplomatic Protection Group would threaten to arrest one of the three ministers who work in Downing Street. I was also surprised that he said I had sworn at him when I had not.

"But equally I was aware I had used bad language and you shouldn't do that in dealings with the police."

Mr Mitchell was asked if he had said what Pc Rowland attributed to him: "Best you learn your f*****g place - you don't run this f*****g government - you're f*****g plebs."

He answered: "My Lord, I did not say those words. I would never call a policeman a pleb, let alone a f******g pleb.

"I apologised to the police officer the following day and I apologise to the court. One should not use bad language when dealing with police officers and I apologise unreservedly for doing so."

Cross-examined by Desmond Browne QC, for Pc Rowland, who is suing Mr Mitchell over statements he made from December 2012 onwards which he says accused him of fabricating his allegations, Mr Mitchell agreed that the chief whip's role required a mixture of charm and menace and that he could occasionally be abrasive.

But, he did not believe that any colleague who knew him well would believe he had called a police officer a "pleb".

"When there is a media storm of the ferocity which hit me, the extraordinary tsunami of vitriol which descended on my head over a prolonged period of time led by The Sun, it is not surprising that very few people would put their head above the barricade and defend me, although a certain number did."

Mr Mitchell agreed that he had a temper - but not that he was quick to lose it - and that he used bad language too much.

Mr Mitchell's counsel, James Price QC, said that a "web of lies, deceit and indiscipline" by police officers led to a press campaign and public hostility and that the version of the encounter which was leaked to the newspaper by a number of officers was "wholly false".

Mr Price said: "In the end the lies brought Mr Mitchell down, destroying a political career of 27 years."

Witness statements showed he was not the sort of man who would think of putting someone down because of their class or social background or occupational status by use of a "toxic and class-laden" expression such as pleb.

Mr Browne said: "Doubtless Mr Mitchell is charming to the officers in his constituency station at Sutton Coldfield when he goes to visit them at Christmas."

But the police officers who were to give evidence had seen the other side of his character, said counsel.

"In other words, they have seen Mr Hyde and not Doctor Jekyll.

"The capacity for menace finds its outlet in both a foul temper and foul language."

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

In written argument on Mr Mitchell's behalf, Mr Price said that, although in the months after the incident the MP was repeatedly portrayed in the media as arrogant and unpleasant and the Metropolitan Police Federation went to great lengths to perpetuate and publicise the "Tory toff" character for their own political benefit, it was clear that was not a true reflection of the man.

Mr Mitchell had never claimed to be perfect but it emerged clearly from the evidence of his witnesses that he was a person with integrity, deep dedication to his work and a complete lack of any social superiority or snobbishness.

Asked by Mr Browne about the cycle policy in Downing Street, Mr Mitchell said that Cabinet ministers had unfettered access at any security point at any time and, except for a handful of occasions, the police were helpful, co-operative and welcoming.

Mr Mitchell was asked about a previous episode, in November 2005, when a security officer at the entrance to Parliament through Black Rod's Garden complained that he had cycled through a gate when it was closing.

Mr Mitchell said that he was approached by a "rude and aggressive" official, shouting and waving his arms.

Asked if he had said "Stop being so aggressive, you little shit" and "I'm an MP and I'm too important to stop for you", he replied that he did not think he used the word "shit" but he knew "for absolutely certain" he would never say something about being too important.

Mr Browne asked about an incident when Mr Mitchell was in Tunisia in 2011 and wanted to cross over into Libya.

Mr Mitchell said there was never any question of going into the war zone and he had no recollection of telling a protection officer "That's a bit above your pay grade, Mr Plod", although it was possible a light-hearted exchange took place.

Mr Browne said: "Pc Plod is the Toyland constable in Noddy who is remarkable for his ineptitude - the constable who always gets it wrong."

Mr Mitchell said: "I don't remember such a pejorative analysis."

Mr Browne suggested that Mr Mitchell was regularly let through the vehicle gates at Downing Street, in the face of the security policy, because of the "unpleasant fuss" he made.

Mr Mitchell said: "There were so many times I flew through with a wave to the police officer that I don't think that can be correct."

Mr Mitchell told the judge that he and his wife went on a week-long trip to Antigua in November 2012 to try and recover from the "shit-storm" that had happened to them.

He said he had no idea whether Pc Rowland colluded with the officer who sent an email to his deputy chief whip pretending to be a tourist who had heard the "f*****g plebs" quote.

"This is a bunch of officers who work together, a tightly-knit bunch of professionals."

Asked by Mr Browne if that did not show something of the contempt he felt for the officers, Mr Mitchell, who described himself as a staunch defender of the police throughout his time in Parliament, said: "They do an extremely difficult job and most of them do it extremely well."

He added: "It wouldn't have mattered if ten officers had said I used those words. I knew that I had not."

The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow when Pc Rowland is expected to give his evidence in the afternoon.

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