Reporting Libel: “Plebgate”, the demand for £200,000 that never was

27 04 2014

The Mail on Sunday today has a MoS Front Pagefront page story with the headline “Plebgate PC: I want £200k for MP’s ‘lies‘”. This is described by the BBC as “the latest twist in this extraordinary saga“.  It is nothing of the sort.  The figure of £200,000 is not the sum being “demanded” by the claimant.

The Mail on Sunday’s reporter has obtained from the Court a copy of the Claim Form and Particulars of Claim issued by PC Toby Rowland against Andrew Mitchell MP on 12 December 2013.  The figure quoted comes from the Claim Form – but it is not a demand for a specific sum.

Claims for libel damages are not quantified but a sum has to be put on the claim form as the upper limit of the sum claimed for Court fee purposes. Court fees are charged on the basis of the value of put on the claim: for example, a claim for £100,001 to £150,000 attracts a fee of £1,115 and a claim for £150,001 to £200,000 attracts a fee of £1,315, more than £300,000 or an “unlimited amount” attracts a fee of £1,920.  The fees are explained in a helpful leaflet produced by the Court Service.

The true position is set out later in the Mail on Sunday article where it quotes the conventional words from the claim form:

 ‘The claimant cannot say how much he expects to recover, save that he does not expect the amount in damages to exceed £200,000.’

These words are attributed to PC Rowland’s lawyer “Des [sic] Browne QC” – whose name, presumably, appears on the document.  Doubtless the position is that PC Rowland and his advisors have concluded that £200,000 is the absolute upper limit of the sum he could possibly recover so that the payment of an additional court fee is not justified.

In short, the fact that a figure of £200,000 is mentioned on the claim form is a non-story transformed into a front page headline (and lazily taken up by the BBC, which should know better).

The Mail on Sunday article contains a number of extracts from the Particulars of Claim – this is the statement of case which sets out PC Rowland’s version of the events of 19 September 2012 at the gate of Downing Street.  Unsurprisingly, PC Rowland’s case is based on his version of the conversation which took place.  As it is put in the Particulars of Claim:

“During the incident the Defendant said to the Claimant “Best you learn your fucking place – you don’t run this fucking government, you’re fucking plebs”

(the Mail on Sunday sensitively prints the “f-word” as “f ******”).  This is, of course, denied by Mr Mitchell.

It appears that no date has yet been set for the trial of this claim or of the earlier one brought by Mr Mitchell against the Sun.


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27 04 2014
sdbast

Reblogged this on sdbast.

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