Labour has said the party is “profoundly sorry” for ”untrue and defamatory” comments made against seven antisemitism whistle-blowers and the BBC journalist John Ware following the broadcast of an episode of Panorama last year.
In an apology read out at the High Court on Wednesday, the party said it “unreservedly withdraws” the allegations and also apologised for the “distress caused by their publication and republication.”
A source close to the case said the Panorama settlement cost the Labour party around £500,000, including about £200,000 in damages agreed for the eight individuals.
Labour had been sued for defamation by the eight individuals following the broadcast of the BBC Panorama, Is Labour Anti-Semitic?, that had been aired in July last year and had investigated how antisemitism in the party was handled under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
In Wednesday’s Statement in Open Court the party agreed to pay “substantial damages” to the seven whistle-blowers - Katherine Buckingham, Michael Creighton , Sam Matthews, Daniel Hogan, Louise Withers Green, Benjamin Westerman and Martha Robinson, who were all former employees of the party.
They also paid substantial damages to Mr Ware.
Earlier 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.
In statements read out before Mr Justice Nicklin, in Court 37 of the Queens Bench Division in the High Court, it was detailed how the whistle-blowers “had concerns there was a lack of commitment by the Labour Party in the proper and effective investigation of antisemitism within the party and the consequential application of measures to root out antisemitism within the party.”
The statement was read out in court by William Bennet QC.
But both before and after the programme was broadcast Labour had issued “defamatory and false allegations.”
One Labour press release said the seven “have always opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, worked to actively undermine it, and have both personal and political axes to grind. This throws into doubt their credibility as sources”.
One of the whistle-blowers was accused of making a false and malicious statement.
Among the news outlets that republished these false allegations were the BBC, Sky News, The Times, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Independent and The Guardian, as well as many Jeremy Corbyn-supporting blogs and websites including The Canary, Skwawkbox and Novara Media, and many individuals on social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter.
Confirming that the BBC Panorama , which has subsequently been nominated for BAFTA award, was strongly critical of the Jeremy Corbyn-led party’s response to antisemitism, the statement said Labour had “falsely accused” Mr Ware of “deliberate and malicious misrepresentations designed to mislead the public” prior to it being broadcast.
It then published further statements attacking him after it was screened.
Lawyers for Labour said they accepted that allegations made in press release issued by the party that Mr Ware had “invented quotes, flouted journalistic ethics” and had “knowingly promoted falsehoods, including by misrepresentations of fact and, by fabricating facts” were defamatory of the experienced journalist.
“All these allegations are false and the Labour Party unreservedly withdraws these allegations and is profoundly sorry for the distress caused by their publication and republication,” said the statement.
“ The Defendant is here today to set the record straight and to apologise unreservedly to Mr Ware for the distress and embarrassment that the publication of the false allegations have caused him and for the damage that has been caused to his reputation. “
Reports suggest the settlement has cost the Labour party between £600,000 and £750,000, with about £200,000 in damages agreed for the eight individuals.
Following the apology, 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.”
In response to the statement read in open court, a Jewish Labour Movement spokesperson said: "We welcome the decision by the Labour Party to withdraw and apologise for the defamatory statements made against seven brave whistle blowers who brought to the public’s attention the scale of discrimination perpetrated against Jewish Labour members.
“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.
”We thank the whistle blowers for their bravery, and for their contributions to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s statutory investigation of the Labour Party amongst many others, which is due to report their findings imminently.
”Under new leadership, our hope is that the Party will continue to demonstrate this willingness to change and act decisively against antisemitism.”