EXCLUSIVE: Riley says ex-Corbyn staffer’s comment left her feeling vulnerable to ‘attack’

The Countdown star is suing former Laura Murray for libel


LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 23: TV presenter Rachel Riley hands in a petition to 10 Downing Street on May 23, 2019 in London, England. Ms Riley joined other campaigners to hand in a petition of more than 35,000 signatures calling for more government funding for Dementia. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

Rachel Riley told a court today that her Twitter spat with former Jeremy Corbyn staffer Laura Murray – whom the Countdown star is suing for libel – left her feeling vulnerable to “physical attack” and that she had experienced “sleepless nights” over the incident.

Ms Riley is suing Ms Murray after the former member of Mr Corbyn’s inner circle tweeted that “Rachel Riley tweets that Corbyn deserves to be violently attacked because he is a Nazi.

“This woman is as dangerous as she is stupid. Nobody should engage with her. Ever.”

Ms Riley added she believed was targeted by Ms Murray following her criticism of antisemitism in the Labour Party in 2018.

In the first day of the trial, Ms Riley said in a witness statement: “The volume of abusive and threatening messages was all-consuming.

“Every time I have to revisit the abuse I received for this case due to this incident, it is re-traumatising and upsetting and I experience the same physical and mental reactions which affect my sleep and wellbeing.”

The row began after an egg was hurled at former Labour leader Mr Corbyn during a visit to Finsbury Park Mosque in north London on 3 March, 2019.

In the wake of the incident, Ms Riley retweeted a post by Guardian columnist Owen Jones about a similar egg attack on former British National Party leader Nick Griffin in January 2019.

Jones had commented: “I think sound life advice is, if you don't want eggs thrown at you, don't be a Nazi.”

Ms Riley retweeted Mr Jones’ post with the words “good advice” followed by a rose and egg emoji.

Later, Ms Murray, then a senior aide to ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, tweeted back: “Today Jeremy Corbyn went to his local mosque for Visit My Mosque Day, and was attacked by a Brexiteer.

"Rachel Riley tweets that Corbyn deserves to be violently attacked because he is a Nazi.

“This woman is as dangerous as she is stupid. Nobody should engage with her. Ever.”

Ms Riley wrote in her witness statement: “I had not tweeted that Jeremy Corbyn deserved to be violently attacked.”.

“I was really affronted at being called ‘dangerous and stupid’ and that people were being told not to have anything to do with me ‘ever’.”

“I had made a sarcastic but in my opinion relevant and important comment in relation to Owen Jones and a few hours later the defendant was spreading it round on Twitter that I advocated violence against Jeremy Corbyn because in her words, I had said that he deserved to be attacked because he was a Nazi.

“I believe that I was targeted by the defendant because I had been critical of the Labour Party's handling of antisemitism.

“It was an attempt to shut me up or to stop people listening to what I was saying by telling people that I was encouraging people to commit violence against Jeremy Corbyn.

“The allegations in the tweet have made me feel vulnerable to physical attack which is naturally very worrying.

“I found it hard to focus on my work and suffered sleepless nights. Even now, the abuse has gone unchecked and my reputation is not vindicated.

 “The growth of antisemitism on the left of British politics led me to criticise the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn and certain of its supporters and sympathisers.

“My view is that the Corbyn-led Labour Party was fostering antisemitism.

“I have spoken publicly to condemn this antisemitism in the Labour Party.

“I started to do so in September 2018. My main vehicle for commenting has been Twitter.

“This led to me becoming the target of a very great deal of abuse and many damaging falsehoods from people supportive of Jeremy Corbyn’s politics and his stewardship of the Labour Party.

“Many on the far left refused to accept that antisemitism was a problem within the Labour Party and instead chose to promote the narrative that complaints about it were some sort of cynical attempt to stop Jeremy Corbyn being elected as prime minister.

“The abuse and lies directed at me have been spread across social media, most noticeably to me on Twitter, as I am directly contactable through this medium.”

Ms Murray’s tweet in which she wrote “this woman is as dangerous as she is stupid”  had around 1,584 retweets, 4,883 likes and 736 comments.

Ms Riley claimed her ‘good advice’ tweet was sarcastic and intended to show the hypocrisy involved in Owen Jones and the left’s ‘selective support’ for acts of violence against politicians.

Giving evidence she said: “I don't see how you could misconstrue that tweet without knowing my background activities of exposing antisemitism.

“My motivation was to show Owen Jones’ hypocrisy.”

“He said it was on ‘all-out war’ against antisemitism.

“But he’s never tweeted anything specific.

“If anyone else did he would attack their character and would try and pull up dirt on them.

“Owen Jones’ most prominent position is as a champion of the left, as a cheerleader for Jeremy Corbyn, and I was highlighting the kind of attacks he made.”

Ms Riley claims she did not step in and clarify what she meant because of advice on how to deal with Twitter ‘pile ons’ of angry users from the Centre for Countering Digital Hate.

Williams McCormick QC, for Ms Murray, said: “You could have just stepped in and said: ‘I can see that a disagreement is going on, this is what I meant’.”

“The advice is not to step in,” said Ms Riley.

“If I were to do it, I would only be promoting something that I didn’t agree with.”

Ms Murray denies defaming Riley, arguing truth, honest opinion and responsible publication in her tweet.

The trial in front of Mr Justice Nicklin continues.


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