Judgment has finally been given in the High Court in what has arguably been the most significant case of the last 12 months. Mr. Justice Mitting J was “satisfied at least on the balance of probabilities [that is ‘was more likely than not’] that Mr Mitchell did speak the words alleged or something so close to them as to amount to the same including the politically toxic word ‘pleb’." Mitting J found that Mr Mitchell’s account of events had been “inconsistent” with CCTV evidence of the altercation and said that his behaviour had been “childish”.
The police officer involved, PC Rowland, would not have had “the wit, imagination or inclination” to fabricate his account of the incident, it was held. The decision was given after 2 weeks of evidence form 26 witnesses, all relating to a 15-second exchange between the men. Although there were inconsistencies within PC Rowland’s account, those inconsistencies did not mean that the officer had fabricated his version of events.
Costs generally follow the event and in this case Mr Mitchell has been ordered to make an interim payment of £300,000 to the owners of the Sun newspaper. The full and final account of what is owed remains to be determined, but it is estimated at up to £2 million. This is a staggering sum and one that our friend Jackson LJ may have something to say about if the ruling is appealed.
Ian Hislop once said that “All the libel lawyers will tell you there's no libel any more, that everyone's given up”. This decision might give Mr Hislop, as the editor of a regularly sued publication, some fortitude in his next battle to come.
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