March 21, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
An entirely unedifying chapter of British public life was mercifully closed last week when Andrew Mitchell, the former Conservative Chief Whip, agreed to pay PC Toby Rowland £80,000 in libel damages.
Mitchell had vehemently denied using the word “pleb” during a confrontation with PC Rowland after the latter had asked him to wheel his bike out of the side gate rather than open the front gates of Downing Street. He had sued News Group Newspapers for reporting PC Rowland’s notes.
Rowland himself counter-sued Mitchell for defamation since at the centre of it all was the allegation that Rowland was lying. The judge in that case ruled that he had reached the “firm conclusion” that Mitchell had used the “politically-toxic” word that night.
Memorably, the judge commented that “PC Rowland is not the sort of man who would have had the wit, imagination or inclination to have made up what a senior politician had said to him in temper.”
But what was really key was his tribute to the 24 year unblemished record of integrity that PC Rowland had with the Metropolitan Police. Journalists seemed not able to report this, possibly because it may have prejudiced the court case, but I wonder how many of them had even looked into it? I wonder if Mitchell had looked into it.
I say this because the whole case was surrounded with so much mendacity once Rowland had reported the discussion. We had immediate leaks to the press, we had a fake letter from another police officer purporting to have witnessed the incident as a member of public, we had another police officer boasting she might be able to “bring down the Tory government”, and we had three members of the Police Federation saying Mitchell had refused to tell them anything in am meeting…a meeting he had recorded and so could prove he had told them.
But the one thing so many people didn’t think to ask was…did PC Rowland have any previous record of making stuff up? Did Mitchell know that he had an unblemished 24 year record as a police officer? The man had his character dragged through the mud for two years and it turns out that there had been no need for it.
I still feel sorry a bit for Andrew Mitchell, a highly capable Minister who learned a very hard way how his record of losing friends and alienating people could count against him when he made a mistake.
But I now feel even sorrier for PC Toby Rowland, now I understand what someone who had so much pride in his honesty felt like being unable to defend himself publicly for so long.