Labour agrees to pay ‘substantial damages’ to seven Panorama whistleblowers after anti-Semitism investigation

The Labour Party has agreed to pay “substantial damages” to seven ex-employees following a BBC Panorama investigation into anti-Semitism within the party.

The whistleblowers, who were responsible for the probe into alleged misconduct by party members, sued Labour over “defamatory and false allegations”.

The legal action followed the broadcast in July 2019 of the programme titled ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic?’

Katherine Buckingham, Michael Creighton, Samuel Matthews, Daniel Hogan, Louise Withers Green, Martha Robinson and Benjamin Westerman all had concerns that the party had shown “a lack of commitment” to properly investigating anti-Semitism within the party, the High Court heard on Wednesday.

Panorama investigates anti-Semitism in the Labour party

Following the hearing, Labour issued an “unreserved apology” to all seven, adding: “We unreservedly withdraw all allegations of bad faith, malice and lying.”

Its statement read: “Before the broadcast of the programme, the Labour Party issued a press release that contained defamatory and false allegations about these whistleblowers.

It continued: “We would like to apologise unreservedly for the distress, embarrassment and hurt caused by their publication.

“We have agreed to pay them damages.”

Sam Matthews and Louisa Withers Green were among the group of whistleblowers (PA/BBC)

The group, who worked in the party’s governance and legal unit, said attempts had been made to undermine their reputation.

This included being described by a party spokesman as “disaffected former staff” who had “personal and political axes” to grind.

In the Panorama episode, a number of the former officials alleged senior Labour figures had interfered in the process of dealing with anti-Semitic complaints.

At Wednesday’s brief court hearing, their barrister William Bennett QC said: “The whistleblowers were highly critical of the Labour Party’s approach to tackling anti-Semitism within its ranks.”

Mr Bennett told Mr Justice Nicklin that Labour had “accused the whistleblowers of having acted in bad faith during and after their employment with the intention of harming the Labour Party” – allegations that he branded “untrue and defamatory”.

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.”

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 the party 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.”

Since becoming Labour leader in April, Sir Keir Starmer has vowed to make tackling anti-Semitism one of his top priorities.

Last month he sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey from his shadow cabinet for sharing an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theory”.

Following Wednesday’s decision in the High Court, Labour stressed in its statement: “Under the leadership of Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, we are committed to tackling anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.

“Anti-Semitism has been a stain on the Labour Party in recent years. It has caused unacceptable and unimaginable levels of grief and distress for many in the Jewish community, as well as members of staff.

“If we are to restore the trust of the Jewish community, we must demonstrate a change of leadership.

“That means being open, transparent and respecting the right of whistleblowers and the free press and freedom of expression which includes the right to object to things written or published.

“We are determined to deliver that change.”

The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) welcomed the case’s conclusion, praising the ‘bravery” of the whistleblowers “who brought to the public’s attention the scale of discrimination perpetrated against Jewish Labour members.”

The group said in a statement: “It is a sad reflection of its historic role as the party of working people that Labour sought to pursue and silence its former employees for speaking out against racism.

“Panorama shone a spotlight on the Labour Party’s failure to act and the growing culture of denial that sought to victimise those who had faced discrimination.”

The JLM said that “under new leadership, our hope is that the party will continue to demonstrate this willingness to change and act decisively against anti-Semitism”.

But Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, an ally of Mr Corbyn, condemned the settlement as “a misuse of Labour Party funds”.

He suggested that the party had been forced to settle a case “it was advised we would win in court.”

Mr McCluskey tweeted that a leaked report on the issue – which detailed the factional splits in the party’s headquarters – told a “very different story about what happened”.

Meanwhile, the BBC welcomed the “long overdue apology” to Mr Ware and the Panorama whistleblowers.

The broadcaster 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.”


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