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Plebgate Police Officer Wins £80,000 Damages in Andrew Mitchell Libel Action

30 June 2015

Slater and Gordon Lawyers represented PC Toby Rowland against former chief whip Andrew Mitchell MP, arising from what became known as the “Plebgate” incident.

Case value: £80,000

What happened:

On 19 September 2012, PC Rowland refused to let Andrew Mitchell MP cycle out of the main gates of Downing Street, directing him to the pedestrian gate instead. In an exchange that followed, Mr Mitchell called the police “f*****g plebs”.

The incident was leaked to, and reported by, The Sun newspaper. Mr Mitchell admitted swearing but denied using the word “plebs” and sued The Sun for libel. He subsequently accused PC Rowland of falsifying his account of events and these accusations were widely publicised.

The incident known as “Plebgate” underwent a thorough police investigation collating over 1,100 witness statements and hundreds of documents. The investigation concluded on 26 November 2013 when the CPS announced that PC Rowland would face no criminal or disciplinary action. However, Mr Mitchell held a televised press conference on the same day repeating his allegation that PC Rowland had falsified his report of the event and alleging that he was part of a conspiracy to frame Mr Mitchell.

In light of his honesty and integrity being attacked so publicly, PC Rowland decided he had no option but to pursue Court proceedings against Mr Mitchell for libel.

Given the common factual background of PC Rowland’s claim and that brought by Mr Mitchell against the publisher of The Sun, the Court ordered a joint trial of the preliminary issues of meaning and the justification defences in these two actions. This trial took place in the full glare of the media spotlight over 8 days in November 2014. In his judgment given on 27 November, Mr Justice Mitting found that PC Rowland had told the truth about his encounter with Mr Mitchell. Subsequently, Mr Mitchell admitted liability in the libel action and agreed to pay PC Rowland £80,000 damages and his legal costs.

How Slater and Gordon Lawyers helped:

This was a very high profile case and gained a huge amount of media interest right from the start which needed constant monitoring. Slater and Gordon Lawyers advised PC Rowland throughout this stressful and traumatic case and helped steer him through the many stages of the litigation, and ultimately the successful trial. Ultimately, Slater and Gordon Lawyers achieved vindication for PC Rowland, by establishing that he had not lied about what Mr Mitchell had said.

After the trial the Head of Libel at Slater and Gordon, who acted for PC Rowland, said, "Toby has had this dark cloud hanging over him ever since the Plebgate incident. It has been put right now. The world cannot dispute that Toby Rowland acted properly that night."

Decision:

Mr Justice Mitting ruled that Mr Mitchell’s account was inconsistent with CCTV footage of the incident and he was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that he did say the word “pleb” or something so close to it to mean the same.

The Judge ordered Mr Mitchell to make an interim payment of £300,000 to PC Rowland and The Sun towards his costs liability.

The libel case was subsequently settled with Mr Mitchell admitting liability and agreeing to pay £80,000 in damages to PC Rowland plus his legal costs.

Related practice area:

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