Journalist John Ware has prevailed in the first round of his proceedings for libel against two senior members of Jewish Voice for Labour.
He claims JVL defamed his reputation as a professional journalist over the BBC Panorama programme that investigated anti-Semitism within Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.
The day after transmission JVL’s media officer Naomi Wimborne-Idrissii told the Jeremy Vine show’s 1.4 million listeners on BBC Radio 2 that Ware had “ a terrible record of Islamophobia, far right politics, he’s been disciplined at – BBC has had to apologise.”
At a hearing to decide the ordinary meaning of her words, Wimborne- Idrissi argued they were just “honest opinion.”
However, Mrs Justice Steyn has ruled that reasonable listeners would have understood they were assertions of fact that Ware had “engaged in Islamophobia and extreme, far right politics, as a consequence of which the BBC has had to apologise for his conduct.” Listeners would also have understood that Wimborne-Idrissi was saying there were “reasonable grounds to suspect” that Ware “has an extensive record of Islamophobia and of involvement in extreme, far right politics.”
Ware says he has never been disciplined for anything by the BBC, is not an Islamophobe and has never engaged in “far right politics.”
The case will now proceed to trial, and Wimborne-Idrissi will have to try to prove that what she said was true. Ware is adamant that it is not.
Ware is also suing the editor of the JVL website Richard Kuper, founder of Pluto Press, the radical left publisher, once the publishing arm of the International Socialists, today known as the Socialist Workers Party.
The website also published Wimborne-Idrissi’s Facebook post in which she provided a link to her comments on the Jeremy Vine show and accused Ware of having a “record of right wing, racist work…”
Lawyers representing JVL, Kuper and Wimborne-Idrissi argued this was also just opinion but the Judge found the ordinary meaning of her words was that Ware was a journalist “whose journalistic record includes right wing, racist work.”
Ware commented: “I’m pleased to have prevailed at this first stage of the proceedings and look forward to clearing my name from these very hurtful and false allegations that they have made against me. They need to understand that there’s a high price to pay if you go around making false claims. The accusations that I am an ‘Islamophobe, racist and engaged in far right politics’ are grossly offensive. The Court will decide whether they are lies.”
Ware’s lawyer, Mark Lewis of Patron Law said “the case will now fight on to trial so that John can prove that these allegations were completely baseless. It’s one thing to hold a different opinion but you can’t have different facts”.
Ware is also suing Paddy French, editor of the Press Gang blog, over his claims that the Panorama documentary “bent the truth to breaking point” and that he was a “rogue reporter.” French sent his article to senior managers and journalists at the BBC, as well as Sky News, LBC, Channel 4 News, the Sun on Sunday, the Times, the Sunday Times, and the Guardian.
Last February, Ware also prevailed in the first round of his High Court libel battle with French.
He also argued his word were just opinion, but Mr Justice Saini found they were assertions of fact, ruling that they meant Ware “is a rogue journalist who had engaged in dirty tricks aimed at harming the Labour Party’s chances of winning the general election by authoring and presenting an edition of Panorama in which he presented a biased and knowingly false presentation of the extent and nature of antisemitism within the party, deliberately ignoring contrary evidence”.
The judge added: “The article goes substantially beyond an accusation of general one-sidedness which one might encounter in political commentary of a journalist’s standpoint on an issue…the claimed knowing falsity of what Mr Ware has presented is a feature which stands out.”
The programme interviewed seven former Labour staffers who worked in the party’s governance and legal unit, responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct by party members.
In July 2020, the Labour party under Kier Starmer agreed to pay "substantial" damages to the seven ex-employees after the party under Jeremy Corbyn denounced them as "disaffected former staff" with "personal and political axes" to grind. Ware was also awarded damages after Corbyn’s Labour party accused him of “deliberate and malicious representations designed to mislead the public.”
The party issued an unreserved apology in the High Court for making "false and defamatory" comments about ware and the seven whistle-blowers.
Explaining why he was taking libel proceedings at the time, Ware said "It was an unwritten code amongst we journalists that we don't sue because free speech is sacrosanct, but the world has changed thanks to social media. You either accept and shrug your shoulders when people call you a liar and say you fabricated evidence and deliberately promoted falsehoods - as the Labour Party did - or you decide to do something about it. So I decided to do something about it."
Corbyn and supporters have said the decision by Starmer to settle the claims with an apology and "substantial payments" was "political” and that party's legal advice was that it "had a strong defence.”