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Wed, 5 August 2020

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By Hft

Labour apologises ‘unreservedly’ to whistleblowers and Panorama reporter for attack on anti-semitism investigation

Labour apologises ‘unreservedly’ to whistleblowers and Panorama reporter for attack on anti-semitism investigation
4 min read

Labour has issued an “unreserved” apology and agreed to pay damages to former members of staff and a BBC journalist after attacking them over a Panorama documentary into its handling of anti-semitism complaints.

Statements read out in the High Court on Wednesday withdraw Labour’s “defamatory and false” claims about the whistleblowers and the documentary team, who broke cover to allege that the party had mishandled allegations of anti-Jewish abuse.

The move will be seen as a major rebuke to the party's former leadership team under Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour was sued by seven whistleblowers who appeared in the 2019 film and who accused it of attempting to undermine their reputations after a 3,000-word press statement responding to the programme dismissed them as "disaffected former staff" who had "personal and political axes" to grind.

Panorama Journalist John Ware also launched action against Labour over claims that his team had engaged in “deliberate and malicious representations designed to mislead the public” in its broadcast.

But, in an “unreserved” apology from Labour to former staffers Kat Buckingham, Michael Creighton, Samuel Matthews, Dan Hogan, Louise Withers Green, Benjamin Westerman and Martha Robinson, the party said: “Before the broadcast of the programme, the Labour Party issued a press release that contained defamatory and false allegations about these whistleblowers.

“We acknowledge the many years of dedicated and committed service that the Whistleblowers have given to the Labour Party as members and as staff. We appreciate their valuable contribution at all levels of the Party. 

“We unreservedly withdraw all allegations of bad faith, malice and lying. We would like to apologise unreservedly for the distress, embarrassment and hurt caused by their publication.  We have agreed to pay them damages.”

They party added: “Under the leadership of Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, we are committed to tackling antisemitism within the Labour Party. Antisemitism has been a stain on the Labour Party in recent years. It has caused unacceptable and unimaginable levels of grief and distress for many in the Jewish community, as well as members of staff.

“If we are to restore the trust of the Jewish community, we must demonstrate a change of leadership. That means being open, transparent and respecting the right of whistleblowers. We are determined to deliver that change.”

'DISTRESS, EMBARASSMENT AND HURT'

Meanwhile Mr Ware received his own “unreserved” apology for “defamatory and false” allegations about his conduct.

The party said: “We would like to take this opportunity to withdraw these allegations. We would like to apologise unreservedly for the distress, embarrassment and hurt caused by their publication.”
 
And it added: “As we acknowledge in the Statement in Open Court, John Ware is a very experienced broadcast and print journalist, producer and author, and we have agreed to pay damages to him.”

In the statement read out in the High Court on Monday, Labour acknowledged that the party’s communications team — led at the time by key Jeremy Corbyn ally Seumas Milne — were “intended by the Defendant to be republished, very widely” in the media and on social media.

Labour’s lawyers said: “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. The Defendant also has agreed to pay substantial damages to the Claimant.”

BBC: APOLOGY LONG OVERDUE

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.”

Labour's apology has also been welcomed by party affiliate the Jewish Labour Movement, which has been sharply critical of the way the organisation has dealt with anti-semitism complaints.

A spokesperson said: “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 whistleblowers 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.”

And the JLM added: “Under new leadership, our hope is that the party will continue to demonstrate this willingness to change and act decisively against antisemitism.”

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