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Geldof backs Mitchell on 'Plebgate'

Bob Geldof has told the High Court that he was a "pleb" but never once was he patronised by former Government chief whip Andrew Mitchell.

The musician and fundraiser has provided written evidence in support of his friend, who is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN) for libel over the "Plebgate" incident at Downing Street in September 2012.

It says that he first met the 58-year-old MP for Sutton Coldfield, who resigned as whip a month after the encounter with Pc Toby Rowland, some years ago - and he considered him one of the more effective ministers he had worked with over the past 30 years.

"I am used to being patronised by 'my betters', there was no such nonsense from Mr Mitchell."

He added: "We became friends because beyond his qualities as a leader and advocate for the less fortunate, I thought he was a good man. We are an unlikely pair of friends.

"I came from a poor Irish, not particularly well educated background and he does not. I am in fact 'a pleb' and he is not. Never once in all our time did he patronise me, talk down to me, behave in a superior manner to me, deride, insult or dismiss me or my opinions.

"Nor did I ever find in him the preposterous pantomime patrician and frankly Wodehousian superior manner attributed to him in The Sun and others.

"He is open, frank, truthful, even when at times you wish to hear something other.

"I believe I have a perhaps justified reputation for swearing a bit. It has to be said that on occasion Andrew Mitchell was no slouch either.

"But not once in all of this time did I EVER hear him use the ridiculous and archaic expression 'pleb'!"

Geldof, who was not in court, said he had already put on record his estimation of Mr Mitchell's probity as a man, his honesty as a person and his abilities as a professional: "I have not a single shred of doubt that what Andrew Mitchell says is the truth".

"I have reason to say this for indeed many times I have asked my fellow but doubting activists to trust what Mitchell is saying. That he will, unusually for a politician, do as he says. He has never once let us down.

"This is a truthful, reliable, honest man."

Mr Mitchell claims that the story at the centre of the case, which NGN says is substantially true, meant he was guilty of launching a grossly offensive and arrogant attack at Downing Street police officers, branding them "f*****g plebs".

Asked if he had used the words attributed to him by Pc Rowland: "Best you learn your f*****g place - you don't run this f*****g government - you're f*****g plebs", he told Mr Justice Mitting: "I did not say those words. I would never call a policeman a pleb, let alone a f******g pleb."

He has accepted that he did say, under his breath but audibly: "I thought you lot were supposed to f*****g help us'", but not at the officer.

Pc Rowland, who is suing Mr Mitchell over statements he made from December 2012 onwards which he says accused him of fabricating his allegations, is due to give evidence later today.

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.

Geldof's statement was one of a number provided to the court from people in various walks of life.

MP Kenneth Clarke said: "I have always regarded him as a man of impeccable character. He can be a little hot tempered, but never in malice.

"I have never known him to be dishonest or untruthful in any way and I would be prepared to put a very great deal of confidence in anything that he told me."

Lord Norman Fowler said he did not believe that Mr Mitchell would have used a word like "pleb": "It came from another age and I had never seen any hint of class feeling in any of his dealings. Quite the opposite".

The peer said that the former international development secretary could not work in the HIV/Aids field in the outstanding way he did while harbouring views about class superiority.

Painter and decorator Richard Robinson worked on Mr Mitchell's house in Nottingham in 1998.

"It was a big job. It did not always go to schedule with the builders, but he always found time to have a chat with the workers on site when he came up from London and he paid on time.

"When the job was coming to an end he put on a barbecue for all that had worked on the site. That's only happened to me twice in 49 years of working - he did not have to do that.

"When I heard the news last September that Andrew Mitchell had called a police officer a 'pleb' coming out of Downing Street gates, I had to look the word up first and then my thoughts were no way would he have said that to anyone.

"I have come to know Andrew over the last 20 years and I don't always agree with his politics. I've even voted Labour at the last two elections but when I met Andrew a few months after the incident I had no difficulty in telling him that I believe he would not have used the word 'pleb' to anyone."

In his written statement, Lord (Sebastian) Coe said he knew Mr Mitchell to be "a man of integrity" and one who had chosen to dedicate much of his free time to working abroad in Third World countries to help those in need.

"I have heard Andrew use fruity language in the past but I have never heard him use the word 'pleb'. My instinct is that he would not have done so in this instance."

Journalist and author Matthew d'Ancona said: "Class has been an intermittent issue for the Cameron Government, which has been criticised for allegedly favouring those educated at public school and Oxford or Cambridge.

"The claim that a senior member of the Coalition had used the word 'plebs' in any context would have been damaging. The allegation that it had been used in anger to describe the police was positively toxic.

"I can readily imagine Andrew, frayed at the end of a working day, swearing as he did. But more than a decade of conversations made me deeply sceptical of the claim that he had used the word 'plebs'.

"I simply could not imagine him using such a disgusting and discourteous word, a supposed outburst that would have been at variance with all he believes about social decency and equality of worth."

Mr d'Ancona said he simply did not believe the "poisonous" claim which did not ring remotely true.

Political journalist Isabel Oakeshott said that, over the years, she had dealt with many unsavoury and duplicitous characters and, as a result, regarded herself a fair judge of character with a well-developed sense for when an individual was lying.

"Whilst he did not behave well on the evening of September 19, my instinct remains that Andrew Mitchell is telling the truth in his account of the events."

London Mayor Boris Johnson said in his statement that, like Mr Mitchell, he had "sailed happily" through the front main vehicle gates of Downing Street on a number of occasions on his bicycle.

"On one occasion I was politely asked to dismount and go in by the side pedestrian entrance. There seemed to be no particular reason for the variation and I did not bother to ask further."

Giving evidence, Pc Toby Rowland said that he did not know who Mr Mitchell was when he saw the MP, who was "agitated", having a disagreement with a fellow officer at around 7.35pm.

"I went and spoke to Mr Mitchell. It's routine policing that if someone is having an issue, none of us take it personally and someone else goes to speak, so I did.

Mr Mitchell had requested to cycle out of the main vehicle gate and was told that the policy was to use the side pedestrian gate.

Pc Rowland said he explained that, if the policy changed, he would be more than happy to open the main gate but, as things stood, no-one would.

"Mr Mitchell repeated the fact he was the chief whip and wanted to leave by the main vehicle gates . I explained to him that the policy had changed and he must use the side pedestrian gate and no-one present was going to open the main gate."

He added: "I was perfectly calm, perfectly polite. It is quite common to have disagreements about entrances and times people can come and go."

The officer said he followed Mr Mitchell towards the side gate and saw several members of the public on the other side of it.

Pc Rowland said that, when Mr Mitchell swore at him, he glanced up and saw they were visibly shocked which he believed was due to Mr Mitchell's actions, so he warned him under the Public Order Act.

"I said 'please don't swear at me sir. If you continue to do so I will have no option but to arrest you'."

The officer said that Mr Mitchell remained silent but as he left, the MP said: "You haven't heard the last of this."

Pc Rowland said that he had to take an eye and hearing test every year and he passed with flying colours. It was also remarkably quiet in Downing Street for the time of evening.

The warning he gave was routine policing: "I know it's been alleged that I treated him differently to another member of the public. I treated him exactly the same as anyone else.

"I am entitled to arrest him. I didn't. I warned him about his behaviour. He took this on board and stopped swearing."

Asked if he knew what "pleb" meant at the time, Pc Rowland said: "No, my Lord, I didn't. If I had heard it in passing, that's all. It's not a term I'm used to or have heard any of my colleagues using or any of my friends."

He said that, after Mr Mitchell had gone through the gate, he explained what had happened to his colleagues and wrote down what Mr Mitchell had said in his pocket book.

He hadn't a clue who the chief whip was, although he was aware the position had changed recently, and he was told Mr Mitchell's name either by the MP or a police colleague.

Under cross-examination, Pc Rowland said he recorded exactly what happened when it was fresh in his mind and his account had been consistent throughout.

He believed his arrest warning to Mr Mitchell was "correct, proportionate and very necessary".

The hearing continues tomorrow.


From Belfast Telegraph