It’s a sad indictment of our legal system that Andrew Mitchell, the MP who lost his rag at the gates of Downing Street when a policeman told him to dismount from his bicycle, has been ordered to pay just £80,000 in damages after he tried to ruin the copper’s career.
Mitchell’s tirade against PC Toby Rowland infamously included the word ‘pleb’. He denied this and made other claims which led PC Rowland to sue him for defamation. That case was won on November 27 last year – more than two years after the incident took place in September 2012.
Now it has been announced that PC Rowland has accepted an offer of just £80,000 in damages from Mr Mitchell, whose lucrative £18,000-a-day second career with asset management firm Investec means he will, in effect, lose less than a week’s wages.
Less than one week’s wages – from a second job Mitchell shouldn’t have – in punishment for putting this police officer through 26 months of agony, simply for doing his duty.
Why does the BBC want us to pay more attention to a squabble between this overprivileged cyclist and a policeman than to the wholesale privatisation of the National Health Service, for which we have all paid with our taxes?
In the mid-1990s I interviewed for a reporter’s job at the then-fledgeling BBC News website. I didn’t get it.
Considering the BBC’s current output and apparent lack of news sense, I am now very glad that I did not succeed. I would be ashamed to have that as a line on my CV.
Unfortunately, the BBC accounts for 70 per cent of news consumption on British television – and 40 per cent of online news read by the public. It has a stranglehold on most people’s perception of the news – and it is clearly biased.
Take today’s story about PC Keith Wallis, who has admitted misconduct in the ‘Plebgate’ affair by falsely claiming to have overheard the conversation between Andrew Mitchell and another police officer. He admitted the falsehood at a court hearing in the Old Bailey.
The case is important because he had been lying in order to support the allegation that Mr Mitchell had shouting a torrent of profanities at the other police officer, Toby Rowland, after being stopped from cycling through Downing Street’s main gates. PC Rowland had alleged that one of the words used had been the derogatory word “pleb”, and the resulting scandal had forced Mitchell to resign as Tory Chief Whip.
It casts doubt on the integrity of Metropolitan police officers – a further four are facing charges of gross misconduct.
However, the officer at the centre of the case – PC Rowlands – is not among them. He remains adamant that his version of events is correct and is suing Mitchell for libel over comments he made about the incident which the officer claims were defamatory.
This is the story the BBC decided to make the lead on all its news bulletins, all day. It contains no evidence contradicting PC Rowland’s allegations against Mitchell; the worst that can be said is that the admission of guilt casts a shadow over the entire Metropolitan police service – and in fairness, that is a serious matter.
But the fact is that people will use this to discredit PC Rowland and rehabilitate the reputation of an MP who was a leading member of the Coalition government until the incident took place – and that is wrong. It is an inaccurate interpretation of the information, but the BBC is supporting it by giving the story the prominence it has received.
In contrast, let’s look at the way it handled revelations about the Coalition government’s plans to change the National Health Service, back when the Health and Social Care Act was on its way through Parliament.
You will be aware that Andrew Lansley worked on the then-Bill for many years prior to the 2010 election, but was forbidden from mentioning this to anybody ahead of polling day (see Never Again? The story of the Health and Social Care Act 2012). Meanwhile all election material promised no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS. Former cabinet minister Michael Portillo, speaking about it on the BBC’s This Week, said: “[The Tories] didn’t believe they could win an election if they told you what they were going to do.” Considering the immensity of the changes – NHS boss David Nicholson said they were “visible from space” – this lie should have sparked a major BBC investigation. What did we get?
After Lansley released his unpopular White Paper on health, David Cameron tried to distance himself from the backlash by claiming “surprise” at how far they went. This was an early example of the comedy Prime Minister’s ability to lie (so many have issued from his lips since then that we should have a contest to choose the Nation’s favourite), as he helped write the Green Papers that preceded this document (see Never Again). If it was possible for the authors of Never Again to dig out this information, it should certainly have been possible for the BBC. What did we get?
Not a word.
In contrast to Cameron, Lansley, and any other Tory’s claims that there would be no privatisation of the NHS, KPMG head of health Mark Britnell (look him up – he’s an interesting character in his own right) said the service would be shown “no mercy” and would become a “state insurance provider, not a state deliverer”. This important revelation that the Tories had been lying received coverage in less popular outlets like The Guardian, Daily Mirror and Daily Mail but the BBC only mentioned it in passing – four days after the story broke – to explain a comment by Nick Clegg.
One of the key elements used to get members of the medical profession on-side with the Lansley Act was the claim that GPs would commission services. This was a lie. It was well-known when the plans were being drafted that general practitioners simply would not have time for such work and it was expected that they would outsource the work to private management companies – many of whom would also have a hand in service delivery. There is a clear conflict of interest in this. East London GP Jonathan Tomlinson told Channel 4 that the scale of private involvement would be so large as to include “absolutely everything that commissioning involves”. This was a clear betrayal of the promise to GPs. The BBC never mentioned it.
Another phrase trotted out by the Tories was that the changes would increase “patient choice” – by which we were all intended to believe patients would have more opportunity to choose the treatment they received and who provided it. This is a lie. The new Clinical Commissioning Groups created by the Act – and run, not by doctors, but by private healthcare companies on their own behalf – have a duty to put services out to tender unless they are sure that only one provider is able to offer a service. In reality, this means all services must be opened up to the private sector as no CCG could withstand a legal challenge from a snubbed private provider. But this makes a mockery of Andrew Lansley’s promise that CCGs could choose when and with whom to commission.
In turn, this means private firms will be able to ‘cherry-pick’ the easiest and cheapest services to provide, and regulations also mean they can choose to provide those services only for those patients they believe will cost the least money. Anyone with complicated, difficult, or long-term conditions will be thrown to the wolves. In other words, far from patients having increased choice, the Health and Social Care Act means private companies will be able to choose the patients they treat.
We are still waiting for the BBC to report this.
Add it all up and you will see that the largest news-gathering organisation in the UK – and possibly the world – sees more news value in a slanging match between an MP and a policeman than it does in the wholesale betrayal of every single citizen of the country.
Why do we allow this to continue?
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