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Friday 29 March 2013

Plebgate Rides Again

It happened more than six months ago, but still the saga of what happened one evening when then Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell failed to get the Downing Street gates opened for him has not only not gone away, but has now been sparked back into life with the news that Mitchell has issued proceedings for libel against Rupe’s downmarket troops at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun.

Moreover, Mitchell has not ruled out hitting other media sources with a good legalling, and there is, as I’ll show, at least one deserving candidate. Meanwhile, the Sun is telling anyone minded to listen – an audience that may not be very large – that it will defend the action. “We stand by our story and will defend this claim vigorously” was the defiant comment last night.

So what can be gleaned from the Sun’s coverage? Well, the original article, backing up the front page splash “Cabinet Minister: Police Are Plebs”, from September 20, appears to have gone AWOL. But an extensive piece from two days later, “Top cop calls for Tory Chief Whip to quit over pleb rant” is still available, telling readers “the millionaire minister launched an f-word rant at armed police”.

Worse for the Sun, when a Police officer was arrested in connection with the affair in December, the line taken was superbly defensive: “THE arrest of a cop over Plebgate was condemned as ‘chilling’ last night as politicians, free speech campaigners and police representatives voiced their dismay at the move”. Britain was branded “an oppressive country”.

Mitchell, in the meantime, had sought release of the CCTV footage from the end of Downing Street, only to find obstruction and the insistence that it was a “non-story” (a phrase familiar to Murdoch watchers). When he did get the video, it showed that the Police log – mysteriously echoed in a supposedly impartial witness account – was very obviously flawed.

All of this was brought to light in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme – note that the broadcasters, regulated by Ofcom, were the only ones to do the investigative journalism here – and a total of three Police officers and one other person have now been arrested. One of those officers appears to have been behind the “impartial” witness account. The Sun might not be calling them as witnesses.

So who else could be on the receiving end of proceedings? Right behind the Sun was the Daily Mail, alleging that Mitchell had shouted “I’ll have your job for this at the Police guarding the Downing Street gates. Anyone wondering about the veracity of that one should view the CCTV footage. And, as to the “defend this claim vigorously”, Chapter 10 of Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News is required reading.

The thought occurs that more than one paper may be having to pay up. A lot.

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