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Tue, 20 October 2020

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Former Labour general secretary Iain McNicol suing the party over leaked anti-semitism report

Former Labour general secretary Iain McNicol suing the party over leaked anti-semitism report

Lord McNichol’s lawyer said the report had been “mischaracterised, misquoted “ and was “very factional”.

3 min read

The former general secretary of Labour is suing the party over a controversial leaked report into its handling of anti-semitism.

Lord Iain McNicol, who served as Labour’s top official during the early part of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, is among those taking action against the party over claims made in the document, his lawyer has confirmed.

The move was revealed after a day of bitter in-fighting in the Labour ranks sparked by a settlement and apology to former party staff and a BBC journalist involved in a Panorama documentary into anti-Jewish abuse.

Mark Lewis, a partner at Patron Law, told BBC’s Newsnight that while the libel case against Labour over its response to the 2019 documentary was now over, the party still faced a series of claims because of the leak of the internal report on its anti-semitism response. 

The document — which is now subject to an independent inquiry led by QC Martin Forde —  blames former Labour officials opposed to Mr Corbyn for hampering his efforts to tackle abuse and sabotaging the party's 2017 election campaign.

Mr Lewis said the report had been “mischaracterised, misquoted “ and was “very factional”.

And he revealed: “There are 32 people who have instructed me to take action.

"Their actions are in respect to data breaches misuse of private information, libels — It's like an exam question for a libel lawyer to look through them and see how many claims you can find.”

He added: “Lord McNicol is one of the people who is taking action who has been named in the report.

“There are many other people who are named in the report, they come under different categories: people who work for the party, people who were in the party in in political positions.”

Mr Lewis said of the former Labour general secretary: “McNicol is named in the report and is blamed for things that simply didn't happen. It’s a mischaracterisation of a report which is being taken on.”

The revelation that the one-time top Labour official is taking action against the party comes after Jeremy Corbyn led criticism of the move to issue an "unreserved" apology in the High Court and pay damages to former party staff and a BBC journalist over the Panorama film.

Labour agreed to pay a reported six-figure settlement to seven former staff, saying they had withdrawn "all allegations of bad faith, malice and lying".

It apologised for the "distress, embarrassment and hurt" caused by a 3,000-word press release sent out by the party before the broadcast of the documentary questioning the motives of those involved.

The party also agreed to pay damages to Panorama reporter John Ware over "defamatory and false" allegations made against him.

But Mr Corbyn said: “The Party’s decision to apologise today and make substantial payments to former staff who sued the party in relation to last year’s Panorama programme is a political decision, not a legal one.”

And he warned:  “Our legal advice was that the party had a strong defence, and the evidence in the leaked Labour report that is now the subject of an NEC inquiry led by Martin Forde QC strengthened concerns about the role played by some of those who took part in the programme.”

A spokesperson for new leader Sir Keir Starmer would not comment directly on Mr Corbyn's statement.

But Labour MP Margaret Hodge, a fierce critic of the party’s handling of anti-semitism complaints under Mr Corbyn, branded the former leader’s decision to intervene “bizarre”.

“I think it's obsessional,” she told Newsnight.

“I cannot understand that he wants to stand on a hill and be judged by his inability and failure to tackle anti-semitism. 

“That's what he wants to go down fighting — it is extraordinary.”

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