Labour agrees to pay whistleblowers 'substantial damages' over anti-Semitism documentary

22 July 2020, 10:32 | Updated: 23 July 2020, 08:49

The Labour Party has agreed to pay "substantial damages" to seven whistleblowers over "defamatory and false allegations" made following a Panorama investigation into anti-Semitism.
The Labour Party has agreed to pay "substantial damages" to seven whistleblowers over "defamatory and false allegations" made following a Panorama investigation into anti-Semitism. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Labour Party has agreed to pay "substantial damages" to seven whistleblowers over "defamatory and false allegations" made following a documentary investigation into anti-Semitism.

The party was sued by seven whistleblowers who appeared on a BBC Panorama programme last year criticising the then leadership's handling of anti-Semitism complaints

The case revolved around claims by them that the party made attempts to undermine their reputation.

Since becoming leader in April, Keir Starmer has sought to emphasise his commitment to tackling anti-Semitism.

The documentary, 'Is Labour Anti-Semitic?" featured a number of former Labour officials who claimed that senior figures close to the party leadership at the time had meddled in the process of dealing with anti-Semitism complaints.

They also claimed they had faced a huge increase in complaints since Jeremy Corbyn became the leader in 2015.

The Jewish Chronicle newspaper reported that earlier on Wednesday former Labour leader Mr Corbyn, ex-General Secretary Jennie Formby and former director of communications Seumas Milne had attempted to halt the party’s apology – wishing to learn if they had been named in the text.

Katherine Buckingham, Michael Creighton, Samuel Matthews, Daniel Hogan, Louise Withers Green, Martha Robinson and Benjamin Westerman all had concerns there was "a lack of commitment" by Labour to properly investigate anti-Semitism within the party, the High Court heard on Wednesday.

At a brief hearing in London, their barrister William Bennett QC said: "The whistleblowers were highly critical of the Labour Party's approach to tackling anti-Semitism within its ranks."

He told Mr Justice Nicklin: "Before the broadcast of the Panorama programme, the Labour Party issued a press release that contained defamatory and false allegations about the whistleblowers."

Mr Bennett said Labour "accused the whistleblowers of having acted in bad faith during and after their employment with the intention of harming the Labour Party", allegations he said were "untrue and defamatory".

He added: "The Labour Party is here today to set the record straight and to apologise unreservedly to the claimants for the distress and embarrassment that the publication of the false allegations have caused them and for the continuing damage that has been caused to their reputations.

"The Labour Party also has agreed to pay substantial damages to the whistleblowers."

Mark Henderson, representing Labour, told the court: "The Labour Party acknowledges that these claims about the claimants are untrue, and we retract and withdraw them and undertake not to repeat them.

"The Labour Party is here today to publicly set the record straight and to apologise to the claimants for the distress and embarrassment that it has caused them."

At the same hearing, Labour also apologised to John Ware - the journalist who made the Panorama programme - for falsely accusing him of "deliberate and malicious misrepresentations designed to mislead the public".

Mr Bennett said Labour had alleged that Mr Ware "invented quotes, flouted journalistic ethics and ... knowingly promoted falsehoods" in pursuit of "a pre-determined outcome to the question asked by the Panorama programme".

He added that the party had agreed to pay "substantial damages" to Mr Ware.

In a statement, the claimants' solicitor Mark Lewis said: "Today in the High Court, the Labour Party retracted its false allegations made about the Panorama programme asking whether Labour was anti-Semitic.

"The answer was a clear 'yes'. Labour chose to double down and attack the programme's presenter, John Ware, and the whistleblowers rather than addressing the truth of the problem.

"It is ironic that the workers' party chose to act as disgruntled bosses who had been caught out."

He added: "This is just the start. Actions are being taken against those who repeat the libels, and will be taken against those who choose to do so in future. An honest opinion has to be based upon facts.

"Regrettably, there are too many out there who do not bother to check the facts when the facts do not support their factional view."

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