Labour ‘poised to settle’ Panorama whistleblowers' libel claim

EXCLUSIVE: Veteran BBC Panorama journalist John Ware also among those who launched the claim


HULL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 03: Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn steps off a train from Leeds as he tours the North of England by rail today on September 3, 2018 in Hull, England. Labour under Mr Corbyn are proposing a 'Crossrail for the North' linking the North East and North West of England with a new rail line. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

It is understood the Labour Party are poised to settle a legal case brought against it by up to seven former staff members who spoke to the BBC’s Panorama investigation into the handling of antisemitism.

The JC understands that the party is close to finalising a deal with  to the former employees – along with the veteran journalist John Ware who made the programme – after they sued for libel over statements made following the show’s broadcast last July.

The seven whistle-blowers had instructed the lawyer Mark Lewis to act on their behalf summer after Labour issued a series of statements attempting to discredit the whistle-blowers, Mr Ware and the central allegations made in the Panorama – which was titled Is Labour Antisemitic?

Mr Lewis accused Labour of “wilfully attacking  the whistle-blowers, falsely accusing them of making deliberate, malicious representations, and misleading the public, while also calling them disaffected former officials whose credibility as sources was in doubt.”

A further legal letter was sent to the party last December alleged  it had libelled Mr Ware in statements following broadcast of the programme.

It is contended that the Labour party libelled a respected journalist for suggesting he deliberately set out to make a biased programme.

In one statement Labour said: “The Panorama programme and the BBC have engaged in deliberate and malicious representations designed to mislead the public.”

The documentary, which is now nominated for a BAFTA award, alleged that top party figures had interfered with investigations into antisemitism.

On the evening the programme was aired, a Labour spokesman said: “It appears these disaffected former officials include those who have always opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, worked to actively to undermine it and have both personal and political axes to grind. This throws into doubt their credibility as sources.”

One of the whistle-blowers Sam Matthews had told the show he was left feeling suicidal because of the pressures placed on him in his role as the party’s former head of disputes.

Alongside the other ex-Labour staffers he decided to  break non-disclosure agreements that they were asked to sign when leaving the party last summer. They insisted they decided to speak out in the public interest.

Mr Matthews said later:  “The Labour party is choosing to ignore the central charges of antisemitism raised by myself and other whistle-blowers on Panorama, and instead, they have engaged in a concerted campaign to damage my name. I have instructed Mark Lewis to ensure that the defamation and intimidation of whistle-blowers is not allowed to continue.”

Also speaking out was Mike Creighton, Labour’s former director of audit and risk who told the programme of a conversation he had with Mr Milne where he  suggested Mr Corbyn should make a speech saying Israel had a right to exist.

“He actually laughed at me,” Mr Creighton told the BBC show.

Mr Corbyn later said: "I watched the programme and I felt there were many, many inaccuracies in the programme. The programme adopted a predetermined position on its own website before it was broadcast. We’ve made very clear what our processes are."

Momentum founder Jon Lansman also suggested that the whistle-blowers were "former staffers with an axe to grind."

Commenting at the time on the possibility of legal action, a Labour spokesperson said the party’s response to the programme had been fair: “These are justified statements of opinion. Any claims will be vigorously defended.”

Any decision  to consider settling the libel claim would infuriate left-wingers in the party who have repeatedly claimed the Panorama was based on false claims.

In April a leaked report into the party’s handling of antisemitism, which is now the subject of the independent Forde Inquiry, had attempted to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the whistle-blowers claims.

The report, which was commissioned by senior figures loyal to Mr Corbyn, had suggested that his attempts to tackle antisemitism in the party were stifled by staff who opposed him politically.

A lengthy  article on the pro-Corbyn Novara Media website in May was headlined: ‘Did BBC Whistle-blowers Mislead the Public on Labour Antisemitism and Blame Their Own Failures on Corbyn?’

Organisations such as Jewish Voice For Labour also ran articles attempting to discredit the show.

The broadcast regulator, Ofcom, rejected 28 complaints against the same programme.

It decided there were no grounds for pursuing any allegation of bias.

In a statement Ofcom said: “We assessed complaints from viewers who felt that this programme was factually inaccurate and biased. In our view, the programme was duly impartial.

“As well as highly critical personal testimonies, it included the Labour party’s response prominently throughout, including in an interview with the shadow communities secretary.”

The JC contacted the Labour Party for comment on Wednesday but a spokesperson refused to comment.

A source close to the whistle-blowers said: “Nothing is settled until it's settled.”



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