“Keep well away from litigation.” So said Sir John Randall on hearing that Andrew Mitchell had lost his libel case this afternoon.
Sir John, in the eye of the Plebgate storm as it broke in 2012, said legal outcomes were never certain and never surprised him.
Reacting minutes after Mr Mitchell has lost his libel action against The Sun newspaper at the High Court today (Thursday, November 27), Sir John, who gave written evidence but was not called to the witness stand at the High Court, said: ”Was it a surprise to me? I would never be surprised by what happens in law, and my advice is: keep well away from litigation.”
This afternoon, the judge, Mr Justice Mitting, decided the former Tory chief whip Mr Mitchell did use the word ‘pleb’ in a furious row with Downing Street police officers. Mr Mitchell denied using the word but accepted he had been angry.
An officer, PC Toby Rowland, is suing Mr Mitchell separately, also for libel.
As a deputy chief whip from 2010 until 2013, Sir John was a key part of the investigation into the now notorious incident in Downing Street in September 2012, when Mr Mitchell was accused of calling police officers on duty ‘plebs’ after they refused to open the main gate for him to ride his bicycle through.
Mr Mitchell resigned and set about trying to clear his name.
During the subsequent probe, Sir John received an email from a constituent claiming to be a member of the public who had witnessed the altercation. The writer said he was sightseeing with a member of his family when he saw someone he recognised as Mr Mitchell shouting obscenities at police officers manning the gates of Downing Street.
Sir John turned the email over to Conservative Party officials, and at one point was even asked to go to the constituent’s home to find out more.
The emailer turned out to be a serving police officer, Keith Wallis, 53, who at the time lived in Broadhurst Gardens, Ruislip. The Royal protection officer would eventually admit misconduct in public office and receive a 12-month jail sentence for the deception.
At a later misconduct hearing, it was proven that Wallis had breached Standards of Professional Behaviour and that, since at least June 2011, he had been running a business interest that was not disclosed to the police service. He was sacked.
Sir John had spoken to Mr Mitchell – his former boss – about the bust-up in Downing Street.
“I gave evidence that he couldn’t remember what he said, and I believed him. Of course the whole incident of the fake email muddied the water and that was most regrettable, and I was very angry to be led into the position I was. Really, the amount of time and money and words that has been spent on what was less than a minute’s outburst is actually, in the scale of things, truly amazing."