UK

Plebgate libel trial: PC says row was 'trivial incident'

Andrew Mitchell on his bike Image copyright PA
Image caption Police refused to open the main Downing Street gate as the then cabinet minister tried to leave on his bike

A policeman who witnessed the so-called "plebgate" row has said he considered it a "trivial" incident of a "gentleman on a bicycle who had the hump".

Ian Richardson said he did not make detailed notes of the argument after MP Andrew Mitchell was stopped from riding through Downing Street's main gates.

The High Court is hearing rival libel claims from the former chief whip and PC Toby Rowland, who claims Mr Mitchell called officers "plebs".

The dispute happened in September 2012.

It made national headlines and Mr Mitchell - who admits swearing but says his words were not aimed at officers and denies using the word plebs - stepped down as chief whip in October 2012.

Mr Richardson, now retired, said he heard PC Rowland tell Mr Mitchell: "Please don't swear", and so moved closer to listen.

He said after Mr Mitchell left, PC Rowland told him the MP had sworn at him and called police "plebs".

Image copyright Channel 4
Image caption CCTV footage of Mr Mitchell at the Downing Street gates was broadcast by Channel 4

Under cross-examination, Mr Richardson was asked why he had not put that in the notes he made later at the police station.

He said there were three reasons he did not take detailed notes: he thought it was a "minor incident"; he knew PC Rowland was writing a report; and "laziness" - "I was eating my sandwiches," he said.

He also said that after Mr Mitchell left, he and PC Rowland walked down Whitehall looking for witnesses in case Mr Mitchell reported the incident to the Prime Minister.

"It would be power to our elbow," he said.

"I suspected Mr Mitchell would come in the morning and speak to the Prime Minister and say officers had been rude to him."

'Invention' claim

Earlier in court, PC Rowland said he had recorded "exactly what Mr Mitchell said as soon after the event as possible".

But James Price QC - representing Mr Mitchell - suggested the words attributed to the MP were "an invention".

PC Rowland replied: "The evidence I've given is the truth."

Mr Price said the officer had been "reconstructing events from bits of evidence" he had seen.

The policeman responded: "My evidence has been clear and consistent throughout."

PC Rowland said that, during the exchanges with Mr Mitchell, the word "pleb" - which he claimed not to have known the meaning of at the time - had been an "irrelevance", because he was more concerned about the swearing.

He was asked by the judge, Mr Justice Mitting, when he found out the meaning of the word.

The officer said he had read a definition in a newspaper shortly afterwards when, he said, it "referred to plebeian and all of that".

Mr Mitchell is suing News Group Newspapers for the Sun newspaper's coverage of the clash.

At the same time, PC Rowland is suing Mr Mitchell for comments the former minister made in the media and at a press conference a year later.

At the end of the two-week hearing, the judge will rule on which claim of what was said at the Downing Street gates is substantially true.

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