Jeremy Corbyn being sued after comments on Labour anti-Semitism damages settlement
Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is facing legal action after commenting on a “substantial damages” settlement agreed between his party and seven anti-semitism whistleblowers who spoke to BBC Panorama for an investigation last year.
The Labour Party settled with the whistleblowers over “defamatory and false allegations” made following a the investigation into anti-Semitism.
Former leader Jeremy Corbyn, however, said the move to pay the whistleblowers was a "political decision, not a legal one" and described the result as "disappointing".
In a statement posted on Facebook, Mr Corbyn said the settlement "risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations”.
But it appears the comments could have landed the 71-year-old socialist in hot water, with a lawyer who represents the whistleblowers and the programme's reporter John Ware, saying he has been instructed to sue Mr Corbyn.
When asked if action would be taken arising from Mr Corbyn’s statement, lawyer Mark Lewis, from Patron Law said: “I can confirm that I have been instructed to pursue cases.”
Labour was being sued by Mr Ware and the whistleblowers over a press release that was issued before the Panorama programme aired, which the party now admits "contained defamatory and false allegations about John Ware".
After the settlement, the party released a statement: “We would like to take this opportunity to withdraw these allegations. We would like to apologise unreservedly for the distress, embarrassment and hurt caused by their publication.
“As we acknowledge in the statement in open court, John Ware is a very experienced broadcast and print journalist, producer and author, and we have agreed to pay damages to him.”
The party said they issued an "unreserved apology" to Mr Ware, and whistleblowers Kat Buckingham, Michael Creighton, Samuel Matthews, Dan Hogan, Louise Withers Green, Benjamin Westerman and Martha Robinson.
“We unreservedly withdraw all allegations of bad faith, malice and lying. We would like to apologise unreservedly for the distress, embarrassment and hurt caused by their publication," the party added.
The apology appears to be another attempt by new leader Sir Keir Starmer to distance himself from the former leadership.
At PMQs on Wednesday, he told Boris Johnson "the Labour Party is under new management" and at the end of June he sacked one of Mr Corbyn's closest allies - Rebecca Long-Bailey - from the frontbench.
Labour is "committed to tackling anti-Semitism" within their ranks, Labour said, under the leadership of Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner.
Mr Corbyn said the party members have a right to accountability and transparency of decisions taken in their name, and "an effective commitment from the party to combat antisemitism and racism in all their forms".
But he added: " Our legal advice was that the party had a strong defence, and the evidence in the leaked Labour report that is now the subject of an NEC inquiry led by Martin Forde QC strengthened concerns about the role played by some of those who took part in the programme. "The decision to settle these claims in this way is disappointing, and risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle antisemitism in the Labour Party in recent years. "To give our members the answers and justice they deserve, the inquiry led by Martin Forde must now fully address the evidence the internal report uncovered of racism, sexism, factionalism and obstruction of Labour’s 2017 General Election campaign."
The BBC said: “The BBC will always support fair and impartial reporting, exposing wrongdoing and holding power to account.
"The Panorama programme did precisely that, but was subject to an extraordinary and vitriolic attack by the Labour Party. “We welcome today’s long overdue apology to John Ware and the seven Panorama whistleblowers, who have been subjected to painful and damaging personal attacks on their integrity and character. “We applaud their strength to take this case forward and are pleased it has been recognised in court that these extremely serious and damaging allegations against them were false and have been unreservedly withdrawn. “John Ware is a reporter with an extraordinary record of excellence at Panorama for investigative journalism in the public interest.”