13 Jun 2013

Does Sun ‘plebgate’ libel defence show more evidence of police conspiracy?

Legal documents lodged by The Sun newspaper in defence of the libel action taken against them by the former chief whip Andrew Mitchell seem to include further evidence that the former chief whip may have been the victim of a conspiracy.

The documents make it clear than The Sun relied for their stories on two people who phoned the newspaper off their own bat within hours of the incident in Downing Street on the evening of 19 September last year. 

The first was a policeman who rang them within an hour of the actual altercation. 

The second, according to the court papers,  was an anonymous woman who phoned the newspaper between 8 and 8.45am the following morning.

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The document says: “She described herself as a tourist. She did not seek nor was she offered payment. She did not leave a name or number but described how she had been at Downing Street the previous night and had heard the claimant saying to police officers ‘You’re f***ing morons – you think you run the country, well you don’t.'”

The police witness, in contrast, claimed Mitchell had used the word “plebs”, and it was his testimony, and a written police account upon which the newspaper largely relied, for its famous front-page report.

No tourists in the vicinity

Yet examination of the CCTV footage taken from above the pavement in Whitehall, which Channel 4 News and Dispatches obtained last December, shows there weren’t really any tourists in the vicinity of the gates during the 45 seconds that Mitchell argues with police – apart from a figure one can see dawdling. 

The footage was blobbed by the cabinet office, so it is difficult to tell his gender for sure, but even with a blob on the picture it does appear to be a man.  And Mr Mitchell and a friend who have both seen the CCTV footage unblobbed say it clearly is indeed a man. 

So it seems pretty unlikely there was a woman tourist eyewitness in Dowing Street that night, and that The Sun may well have been deceived.

And this, of course, is not the the first piece of questionable evidence in this “plebgate” story.

First, we had the written police account, leaked to The Sun and Daily Telegraph, which said there were “several members of the public present … who looked visibily shocked”. 

A witness who wasn’t really there
Then, Channel 4 News and Dispatches came across the email from a man called Keith Wallis who said he was a sightseeing eyewitness, but then admitted to me that he wasn’t actually in Downing Street that night. 

It later turned out that Wallis was a policeman in the diplomatic protection group, the body whose duties include protecting Downing Street. PC Wallis has since been arrested.

So three clear examples of evidence against Mitchell that doesn’t seem to stand up.  Andrew Mitchell and his friends believe this all points to a conspiracy to smear the chief whip, involving more than one person. 

The senior Conservative MP Richard Ottaway told Channel 4 News today: “This call was made within 12 hours of the incident,” says Ottaway, “and was trotting out a line which we now know not to be true, as the CCTV shows there was no crowd at the entrance to Downing Street. 

“So inevitably you’re led to the conclusion was part of the conspiracy, and frankly I’m astonished that the Metropolitan police haven’t made enquiries.”

The Sun told Channel 4 News:

“The Sun stands by its story about Mr Mitchell which was of considerable public interest and reported in a responsible and professional manner. As can be seen from the company’s defence recently filed at court, we continue to contest Mr Mitchell’s claim vigorously and we have nothing further to add.”

The Met have told the Crown Prosecution Service [CPS]  it’ll could be three more weeks before they give them all the relevant evidence.

The CPS warn that means it will several weeks before they decide whether to bring charges.

Follow @MichaelLCrick on Twitter.