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Plebgate costs setback for Mitchell

Andrew Mitchell has suffered a major setback in his Plebgate legal battle after judges upheld a ruling that he will not be able to claim back more than £500,000 in costs even if he wins.

The ex-Cabinet minister has insisted he wants to push ahead with his libel case against The Sun and put Pc Toby Rowland in the witness box so both men have to swear on oath to their contradictory versions of the spat in Downing Street last year.

But the Court of Appeal this morning refused to overturn a ruling from High Court judge Master Victoria McCloud imposing the punishment after Mr Mitchell's lawyers failed to submit a budget for £506,425 of costs on time.

It is unclear whether the MP, who was reported to be on a no-win no fee arrangement, will now need to meet the legal bill from his own pocket.

Mr Mitchell's lawyers, Atkins Thomson, fell foul of a tough new regime intended to crack down on costs and time taken up by civil litigation.

The order, which limits his reclaimable costs to court fees, was upheld by a Court of Appeal made up of the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, Lord Justice Richard and Lord Justice Elias.

The Crown Prosecution Service said yesterday that Pc Keith Wallis would be charged with misconduct in public office for allegedly sending an email to the deputy chief whip, John Randall, falsely claiming to have witnessed the spat after police stopped Mr Mitchell wheeling his bike through the Downing Street gates.

But there was insufficient evidence to bring any charges against Mr Rowland, who was manning the gate, or a fellow constable who leaked an email giving his account of what had happened.

"We have considered all of the evidence in this case, including previously unseen, unedited CCTV footage from Downing Street, not referred to by the media," Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said.

"Taking it all into account, including the accounts of the officer at the gate of Downing Street and that of Andrew Mitchell MP before, during and after the incident, we have found that there is insufficient evidence to show that the officer at the gate lied in his account.

"The CPS has also found that there is insufficient evidence to show that Mr Mitchell was the victim of a conspiracy of misinformation."

Deborah Glass, from watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission, agreed that the detail of the conversation in September last year could not be proved either way.

"The officer concerned says he was not familiar with the word 'pleb' prior to the incident. His record of the words used was contemporaneous.

"Mr Mitchell has denied using that word. I do not think this can be proven one way or another," she said.

While Mr Rowland faces no action, four other colleagues will face gross misconduct proceedings over the row, meaning they could face the sack.

Two more will be subject to "local misconduct" proceedings for allegedly giving inaccurate statements or making inappropriate comments, while another has been recommended for management action for inappropriate comments.

Mr Rowland claims Mr Mitchell, then chief whip, used the words: "You should know your f****** place, you don't run this f****** government, you're f****** plebs."

But the MP insists he said: "I thought you guys were supposed to f******help us".

In a press conference and round of broadcast interviews last night, Mr Mitchell insisted he would continue his efforts to prove what really happened.

He said he hoped the officer would give evidence on oath as part of the libel proceedings against the Sun for its coverage.

"I have told the truth about this incident. The police did not. My reputation was destroyed. I was vilified, relentlessly," he said.

Mr Mitchell told Channel 4 News: "What I do know is that I was stitched up; I was fitted up in Downing Street by armed police officers whose sole duty is to defend officials and to defend Downing Street.

"We believe that the CCTV shows that the account of Pc Toby Rowland is at very best inaccurate.

"I never said these phrases... no-one speaks like that these days. It's like a Hooray Henry, a lout from a 1920s B-movie being sort of characterised.

"These phrases are completely untrue and the point is that I believe I've managed to show that there should be very grave doubt about the way that I was treated...

"What I am saying is I was stitched up by dishonest police officers in Downing Street last year. I lay the blame on the police."

But Mr Rowland said: "This has now been thoroughly investigated and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has confirmed there is insufficient evidence to take any criminal proceedings against me.

"In addition, neither am I subject to any disciplinary proceedings. I confirm that I am prepared to give evidence under oath if required."

The Sun newspaper said in a statement: "The CPS today concluded that it was in the public interest for the events at the gate of Downing Street to be made public.

"The Sun will be defending Mr Mitchell's libel action on the basis that our original story was true and published in the public interest."

Asked if Mr Cameron had promised him a return to frontline politics, Mr Mitchell said: "Well, I don't think I can really talk about that.

"But I am satisfied that I have an understanding with the Prime Minister on this point."

Mr Mitchell is seeking up to £150,000 in damages over the Sun's coverage of the spat. The newspaper has budgeted its own legal costs at £589,000.

Of Mr Mitchell's hint that Mr Cameron had promised him a return to frontline politics, t he premier's spokesman said: "I think this is in the context of the meeting and discussions that the Prime Minister and Mr Mitchell do have from time to time.

"But those are private discussions."

A Channel 4 investigation earlier this year had cast doubt on the officers' account when it broadcast CCTV footage which showed there was not a large group of tourists outside the main gate at the time as had originally been claimed.

The CPS said yesterday the footage had been edited but today told the channel it had not suggested that it had been responsible for cutting down the video.

A Channel 4 / ITN spokesman said: " We welcome the clarification and acknowledgement received today from the CPS that the footage broadcast on Channel 4 News on 18th December 2012 was not edited by the production team to change or alter the sequence of events.

"In an email today to the executive producer of the Channel 4 News item and Dispatches programme the Crown Prosecution Service Chief Press Officer said: ' Please be aware that the CPS has not maintained that you or Channel Four/ITV [sic] edited the footage yourselves, indeed we have not ever said that but the footage you showed is an edited version. That is that people were obscured so movement, head turns and head angles as well as any visible reactions cannot be seen, and the start and finish points were later and earlier respectively than the footage we have been shown and so it did not include footage of members of the public coming into view from the right hand side as you look out to Whitehall immediately after the incident who may have been visible from the pedestrian gate at the relevant time. In addition there are other cameras which are helpful.'

" In addition we have had sight of an email sent today from the Director General, Propriety and Ethics, Cabinet Office, Sue Gray to Andrew Mitchell MP which states: ' Further to our telephone conversation, I can confirm that the Cabinet Office provided you with a copy of the relevant CCTV footage unedited for the incident and time period in question. The pixilation was undertaken by another government department on our behalf.'"

A CPS spokeswoman said: "Our statement yesterday referred to the fact that the CCTV footage which has been broadcast had clearly been edited. That remains the case.

"The CPS does not know, and has not said, who did the editing as it is not relevant to our decision making. We understand Channel Four wanting to clarify their position, but our position has not changed."


From Belfast Telegraph