Why Andrew Mitchell got lucky

Iain Gould, Actions Against the Police SolicitorBy Iain Gould, Solicitor

Andrew Mitchell, the ‘Plebgate’ MP and former Chief Whip, appeared at a press conference yesterday in his ongoing case against the police.

Mr Mitchell, who I have previously written about here, is angry that the Crown Prosecution Service (‘CPS’) declined to prosecute PC Toby Rowland, the police officer at the centre of the story who reported the incident on 19 September 2012.

While his case continues, in my opinion, Mr Mitchell got lucky.

Andrew Mitchell’s disputed case against the police

On 19 September 2012, there was an incident at the gates of Downing Street between Mr Mitchell and PC Rowland.

The police officer declined to allow Mr Mitchell to exit on his bicycle via the main security gates, which were closed.

The officer instead directed Mr Mitchell to a nearby pedestrian gate which he opened for the politician.

In response, PC Rowland claims that Mr Mitchell said,

‘You should know your f***ing place, you don’t run this f***ing government, you’re f***ing plebs.’

Mr Mitchell, however claims that he simply said,

‘I thought you guys were supposed to f***ing help us.’

Although the exact wording of what was said is disputed, both say that the officer warned Mr Mitchell for swearing.

In the following weeks, newspapers published a story quoting the ‘plebs’ comment, Mr Mitchell resigned as Chief Whip, and a Channel 4 investigation cast doubt on the police’s version of events.

Following an expensive year-long investigation, the CPS have decided to prosecute only one police officer, PC Wallis, who claimed to have witnessed the incident in an email to his MP. All other police officers involved, including PC Rowland, will not face criminal charges.

Five police officers face gross misconduct charges, and three face lesser charges. PC Rowland is not among them.

Andrew Mitchell’s response to the CPS

At Tuesday’s press conference, Mr Mitchell explained the personal effects of the ‘Plebgate’ story.

As a result of the alleged lies of PC Toby Rowland, Mr Mitchell claims that:

  • his reputation was destroyed;
  • he was vilified relentlessly;
  • he received over 800 hate emails;
  • he and his family were driven from their home because of the press pack outside;
  • his mother in law was pursued in Swansea;
  • he was spat at in the street; and
  • he lost his job as chief whip.

In a direct challenge to both the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions, the politician said,

‘I wish now to make clear that PC Toby Rowland, who was responsible for writing those toxic phrases into his notebook, was not telling the truth.’

He intends to sue The Sun newspaper for libel. The tabloid was the first to use the ‘pleb’ remark and stands by its story. In suing the newspaper, Mr Mitchell hopes to call PC Rowland to give evidence and allow a jury to decide whose version of events is to be believed in his long-running case against the police.

How Andrew Mitchell is lucky in his case against the police

Both the police and Mr Mitchell agree the basic facts of the incident on 19 September as outlined above.

So, even after a public argument with the police in which Mr Mitchell admits swearing at an officer, all he received was a warning.

Unlike many of my clients, he was not:

  • assaulted;
  • arrested;
  • handcuffed;
  • escorted to a Police station;
  • obliged to provide his fingerprints or DNA sample;
  • required to have his details kept on the Police National Computer;
  • detained in police custody;
  • interviewed; or
  • prosecuted.

Don’t get me wrong, I sympathise with Mr Mitchell and his plight but as a specialist in actions against the police, I believe that Mr Mitchell was lucky to simply end up with a warning.

I am contacted by many clients who are not so fortunate.

Peter Garrigan’s case against the police for fabricated evidence

Picture of Peter Garrigan, a man who won a claim against the police after they fabricated evidence against him.
Peter Garrigan, showing a black eye caused after a police assault.

A few weeks ago, my client Peter Garrigan (details used with permission) was awarded £13,000 compensation after a unanimous jury verdict that police officers had fabricated evidence following a four-day trial at Liverpool County Court.

You can read the full report of his case against the police here.

Mr Garrigan was arrested and assaulted by officers of British Transport Police at Lime Street Station on 19 March 2009 as he attempted to assist his younger brother Daniel.

Daniel was detained by a ticket inspector as he had an invalid train ticket.

The inspector called the police when Mr Garrigan refused to leave his brother’s side.

British Transport Police officers appeared and told Mr Garrigan to leave.

Peter refused and attempted to explain the situation on behalf of his brother.

One officer took Peter’s arm. As Mr Garrigan broke free, telling the officer that force was unnecessary, the officer:

  • pushed Mr Garrigan against a wall;
  • kneed him in the stomach;
  • punched him;
  • forced him to the ground with a ‘leg sweep’;
  • pinned him face down on the train station floor;
  • put him in handcuffs; and
  • arrested him.

Mr Garrigan, who had never been arrested before, was taken to Wavertree Police Station.

Following an interview, Peter was issued a Fixed Penalty Notice for a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act for using ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour’.

After Mr Garrigan indicated that he would appeal against the notice the police dropped the case against him ‘for procedural purposes’.

In a case against the police which has parallels with Andrew Mitchell’s story, Peter claimed that the police officers who assaulted him lied in their written accounts about how the incident had occurred to cover up the police assault and arrest, and to justify prosecuting him.

The threat of police prosecution hung over Peter for several months. He was stressed and upset as although the proposed prosecution was short-lived, it was of great significance in that a conviction could have ruined his dream of joining the army.

The police assault left Peter with visible injuries to the head, face and shoulders, as well as headaches and pains which lasted for several months.

Peter was determined to take a case against the police for the police assault, unlawful arrest, fabrication of false evidence, and misfeasance in public office.

After three civil court trials (read the case report for why) a jury found that the police officers assaulted Peter and fabricated evidence.

Peter won his case against the police, received an apology, £13,000 compensation, and legal costs.

Another case against the police after acquittal at Crown Court

I have just settled Mr. Thomas’s case against the police for substantial damages and legal costs.

Unlike Andrew Mitchell, Mr. Thomas (name changed), who used less colourful language in his encounter with the police, was prosecuted and convicted at court for a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

He had to appeal to the Crown Court to have his conviction overturned, and instruct me to pursue a civil case against the police to obtain justice.

You can read Mr. Thomas’s case report on my blog.

On 9 August 2008, Mr. Thomas was shopping in Morrisons Supermarket when he saw a uniformed police officer also doing his shopping.

He asked the officer,

‘There is a 9.2 million pound deficit forecast for the next 3 years and you are here shopping for bloody shoelaces and shoe polish.  Do you think this is acceptable?’

The officer replied that he needed shoelaces to chase criminals and warned Mr. Thomas that he considered his conduct amounted to a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

As with Peter Garrigan, the policeman said that he used ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour’.

Mr. Thomas was shocked to hear that and advised the officer that he would lodge a complaint as he considered this an unjustified response to a legitimate question.

He visited the nearby Police Station and filed his complaint.

Two months later, Mr. Thomas was charged with breaching Section 5 of the Public Order Act and the case proceeded to trial.

The officer gave evidence to the effect that Mr. Thomas was aggressive and intimidating.

CCTV footage, which would have helped Mr. Thomas, was not disclosed by the Police or Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr. Thomas was convicted at the Magistrates’ Court and appealed to the Crown Court.

The CCTV evidence was shown at the appeal. It supported Mr. Thomas’s case that he was not aggressive or intimidating, and that the policeman himself did not seem alarmed or distressed.

Two years after the charges were brought Mr. Thomas’s appeal succeeded and his conviction was overturned.

I was contacted by Mr. Thomas in 2011 and asked to pursue a case against the police for malicious prosecution on his behalf.

I agreed to act by way of conditional fee ‘no win no fee’ agreement.

The claim was denied and I was obliged to issue Court proceedings against Leicestershire Police.

They vigorously fought the claim but shortly before trial Leicester Police agreed to negotiate.

They eventually paid my client fifteen times more than they originally offered in damages and legal costs.

Picture of Andrew Mitchell, 'plebgate politician' involved in a police misconduct matter.
Andrew Mitchell, ‘plebgate’ politician

Lucky man

Andrew Mitchell has been harshly treated by the police, media and his political party.

For a while, he was held up as a poster boy for everything wrong with the out-of-touch Tory party, the elite ruling classes, and modern Britain in general.

He was lucky though.

He was never assaulted, arrested, or pursued in the courts.

He had access to powerful friends and media contacts that could assist him in proving his case.

Afterwards, he could use his public profile to force the authorities to thoroughly investigate. He can pursue a libel case to clear his name.

Compared to my clients above, and the vast majority of us, he remains a privileged man.

If you want to pursue a case against the police contact me via my firm’s website or call 0151 933 5525. Alternatively, read more on my blog www.iaingould.co.uk.

 

How the police abuse the law

By Iain Gould, solicitor

Actions against the police solicitor Iain GouldI have previously written on the Andrew Mitchell affair, or what is now known in the media as “Plebgate”

According to Mr. Mitchell, other than swearing at a police officer under his breath in exasperation for the officer’s small mindedness for refusing to open the main gate of Downing Street, he did nothing wrong on the evening of 19 September 2012.

An extract from the log of the officer with whom Mr. Mitchell spoke states how Mr. Mitchell, in the presence of ‘several members of public’ said,

“Best you learn your f—— place…you don’t run this f—— government…You’re f—— plebs.”

The police officer’s log continued,

“The members of public looked visibly shocked and I was somewhat taken aback by the language used and the view expressed by a senior government official. I cannot say if this statement was aimed at me individually, or the officers present or the police service as a whole.”

Tellingly, it concluded,

‘I warned Mr. MITCHELL that he should not swear, and if he continued to do so I would have no option but to arrest him under the Public Order Act, saying “Please don’t swear at me Sir. If you continue to I will have no option but to arrest you under the public order act”. Mr. MITCHELL was then silent and left saying “you haven’t heard the last of this” as he cycled off.’

This account was corroborated by an email from an eyewitness, who claimed to be one of those members of the public looking on.

The police log and media storm that followed was enough to ensure that Mr. Mitchell’s position as Chief Whip was untenable and after a month, he relented to pressure and resigned.

Following a Channel 4 investigation, it now transpires that the independent eye-witness was in fact a serving police officer with Scotland Yard’s diplomatic protection group. Mr. Mitchell claims the man “was nowhere near Downing Street that night”.

Furthermore, CCTV footage allegedly vindicates Mr. Mitchell in that it shows him showing “no sign of any loss of temper or bodily aggression”, and given that the scene lasts only 16 seconds, “hardly time for…a full-on rant”.

And contrary to the police officer’s log, only one member of the public can be seen in the vicinity.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is now investigating and two men have been arrested, one of whom is the serving officer who allegedly sent the email to his MP.

Similar actions against the police cases

I have previously blogged on how the police use s.5 Public Order Act to pursue unjustified prosecutions. In a recent case involving my client Mr. A, he was only accused of causing ‘harassment, alarm or distress’ when South Yorkshire Police found out that he had lodged a complaint after being attacked by a police dog.

In another actions against the police case I am pursuing to trial, Mr. X made a complaint about a police officer he saw shopping while on duty. His ‘reward’ for highlighting what he felt was a waste of police resources was to be prosecuted for using ‘threatening and abusive behaviour’, an allegation that appears to be totally unfounded in light of available CCTV footage.

And in a further matter I have, my client Mr. W was accosted by police officers as he approached a cash machine. Without explanation they took his bank card, searched him and demanded his name and address. When he complained about his treatment he was arrested, detained and issued with a fixed penalty notice for ‘using words or behaviour likely to cause alarm or distress’. Mr. W fought the charge and ultimately his prosecution was dismissed.

I am confident my clients will recover significant compensation for their actions against the police claims for malicious prosecution.

The law

Mr. Mitchell and my clients share being alleged to have acted contrary to the same section of the Public Order Act, S.5(1) which states:

‘A person is guilty of an offence if he: (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.’

As it is a two stage offence, for a conviction to stand, it has to be established that:

  1. the person used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, and
  2. that the said words or behaviour were within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be upset.

This often precludes the police themselves, who are expected to be made of sterner stuff. As I noted in an earlier blog post about a client of mine, swearing in the context of everyday language should not be considered ‘threatening, abusive or insulting’.

Andrew Mitchell has avoided (unlike many of my clients) a criminal prosecution. Had he been prosecuted however, he would no doubt have contested the allegation. Whilst he accepts swearing within earshot of the officer (muttering “I thought you guys were supposed to f—— help us” under his breath as he wheeled his bike into Whitehall), he would argue that such behaviour could never constitute an outrage against public decency and that the officer has deliberately exaggerated his account of misconduct.

Fortunately, he now has CCTV footage that he says discredits the officer’s version of events.

I am afraid that I routinely come across cases where police officers appear to have fabricated and or exaggerated their evidence.  Police officers often take affront when their authority is challenged (legitimately or not) and are well aware that a Court is unlikely to deem behaviour as sufficient to amount to a breach of Section 5 when the conduct is said to have been in their presence only. In the circumstances, the words and behaviour used are deliberately ‘sexed up’ and mysterious members of the public are created so as to justify an arrest/ prosecution.

Too often, police officers get away with it. There are not many who can call on evidence to prove their innocence or who have the will to challenge such behaviour.

Mr. Mitchell maintains that his life-long confidence in the police has been misplaced. He said,

‘If you had told me on September 19 that the sort of experience I have had could have happened in the country today, I would not have believed you…If it can happen to me, it could surely happen to anyone.’

As a Solicitor who specialises in actions against the police, I can assure Mr. Mitchell that his experience is not unique.

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