EXCL Row breaks out as Labour's most senior Jewish official placed on gardening leave
Labour's new general secretary has been criticised after the party's most senior Jewish member of staff was placed on gardening leave.
Dan Simpson was working his notice as secretary of the Parliamentary Labour Party, having been one of six senior figures to announce last month that they would be leaving in the summer.
But he was told by party officials earlier this week that he did not need to return to the office again.
John Stolliday, the head of Labour's compliance unit who was also working his notice, has been placed on gardening leave as well.
The moves came on Jennie Formby's first day as Labour's new general secretary, and as the party continues to try to contain the ongoing anti-Semitism row.
Senior party sources insisted that Mr Simpson's religion played no part in the decision to place him on gardening leave.
But Ruth Smeeth, the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, said: "Dan has been an excellent member of our team, and I'm incredibly concerned by the optics of the first act by the new general secretary being to put on gardening leave the most senior Jewish member of staff employed by the party."
Thomas Gardiner, an adviser to Labour chairman Ian Lavery and a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn, has taken up a role on the compliance unit, which oversees complaints against members, following Mr Stolliday's departure.
Meanwhile, a former Labour candidate who sparked a furious row by sharing a story claiming the Holocaust is a "hoax" has insisted he is not anti-Semitic.
Alan Bull said he had made "a bad mistake" by posting the article on a private Facebook group, but that he had only done so to provoke a debate with fellow members.
Mr Bull was suspended by Labour and had to stand down as a candidate in the upcoming council elections.
Christine Shawcroft was forced to quit as chair of Labour's disputes panel, and as a member of the party's ruling National Executive Committee, after she sent an email calling for his suspension to be overturned.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the row broke, Mr Bull said: "I have not denied the Holocaust at any time in my life and agree that doing so would be anti-Semitic. It is with deep regret that two years ago, before I became active in the Labour party, I reposted an article that appeared in my Facebook inbox, without comment to a closed group of Facebook friends - not to the public.
"This article claimed that a Red Cross document had come to light that questioned the accepted number of Jewish people who died in the Holocaust.
"Why did I repost the article? I was not sure what to think of the quoted document and wanted to find what my Facebook friends had to say about it. This was something I had done countless times with other articles on a wide range of subjects to invite discussion and debate. I had many Facebook friends willing to comment on anything I reposted in this way.
"At that time I was quite new to Facebook and ignorant of the fact that sharing controversial articles in this way would be viewed as anti-Semitic."
Mr Bull said he made clear in a subsequent comment that he did not believe the Holocaust was a hoax.
He added: "I accept that I am guilty of sharing material that is anti-Semitic. A bad mistake with disastrous consequences for me but, more importantly, to the Labour party that we so desperately need in place at all levels of government. I have opposed racism in all its forms for as long as I can remember. I am not anti-Semitic, and I am not a Holocaust denier."
Mr Bull also claimed that "it looks like the leaking of incomplete evidence to the press was timed deliberately to cause maximum damage to Labour and Jeremy Corbyn in the run up to local elections".
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