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Judge rejects British politician's libel lawsuit, says he did call policemen 'plebs'

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LONDON — Britain's High Court has weighed in on a big scandal over one small word, saying a government minister did call a policeman by the "politically toxic" insult "pleb."

Judge John Mitting on Thursday rejected a lawsuit by former Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell over a two-year furor, weighted with class and politics, that has been labeled "Plebgate."

"I am satisfied at least on the balance of probabilities 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," the judge said.

Mitchell sued News Group Newspapers, publisher of the Sun, after the tabloid printed allegations by police officers that he had called them "(expletive) plebs" — a derogatory term for working-class people — when they refused to let him cycle through the gates of London's Downing Street in September 2012.

PHOTO: THIS ADDS THAT MITCHELL LOST HIS LAWSUIT Andrew Mitchell, Britain's former government chief whip, arrives for the sentencing in his case at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014.  Mitchell is suing News Group Newspapers over a Sept. 2012 article in the Sun newspaper about an incident which concerned a verbal exchange at the gate in Downing Street between Mitchell and police officer Toby Rowland. Mitchell is himself being sued by Rowland in respect of statements he made from Dec. 2012 onwards. Britain's High Court has ruled in a big scandal over one small syllable, saying a government minister probably did throw the "politically toxic" insult "pleb" at policemen. Judge John Mitting on Thursday rejected a lawsuit by former Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell over a two-year furor, weighted with class and politics, that has been labeled "Plebgate."  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
THIS ADDS THAT MITCHELL LOST HIS LAWSUIT Andrew Mitchell, Britain's former government chief whip, arrives for the sentencing in his case at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014. Mitchell is suing News Group Newspapers over a Sept. 2012 article in the Sun newspaper about an incident which concerned a verbal exchange at the gate in Downing Street between Mitchell and police officer Toby Rowland. Mitchell is himself being sued by Rowland in respect of statements he made from Dec. 2012 onwards. Britain's High Court has ruled in a big scandal over one small syllable, saying a government minister probably did throw the "politically toxic" insult "pleb" at policemen. Judge John Mitting on Thursday rejected a lawsuit by former Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell over a two-year furor, weighted with class and politics, that has been labeled "Plebgate." (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

The altercation outside the prime minister's office was over in seconds but has had a long afterlife. Mitchell was forced to resign from the government, and a police officer was jailed for lying about witnessing the incident. Scotland Yard, whose reputation had already been battered by corruption exposed in the phone hacking scandal, faced fresh questions about the ethics of its officers.

Mitchell admitted losing his temper but denied using the insult.

But the judge said Toby Rowling, one of the police officers involved, did not have "the wit, imagination or inclination" to have made up the allegations.

Mitchell said he was "bitterly disappointed" by the judgment.

"This has been a miserable two years," he said.

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PHOTO: THIS ADDS THAT MITCHELL LOST HIS LAWSUIT  Andrew Mitchell, Britain's former government chief whip, arrives for the sentencing in his case at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014.  Mitchell is suing News Group Newspapers over a Sept. 2012 article in the Sun newspaper about an incident which concerned a verbal exchange at the gate in Downing Street between Mitchell and police officer Toby Rowland. Mitchell is himself being sued by Rowland in respect of statements he made from Dec. 2012 onwards. Britain's High Court has ruled in a big scandal over one small syllable, saying a government minister probably did throw the "politically toxic" insult "pleb" at policemen.  Judge John Mitting on Thursday rejected a lawsuit by former Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell over a two-year furor, weighted with class and politics, that has been labeled "Plebgate."  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
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