Labour Panorama whistleblowers in threat to sue party for trying to 'destroy' reputations

Posted On: 
14th July 2019

Two former Labour officials who spoke to Panorama's investigation into anti-semitism have vowed to take legal action against the party for trying to "destroy" their reputations.

Labour has been highly critical the BBC Panorama documentary.
Credit: 
PA

Sam Matthews and Louise Withers Green have instructed lawyer Mark Lewis to act after claiming that the party had sought to "defame" and "intimidate" them in its response to their claims.

The pair are among the ex-party staff who broke non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to take part in the BBC documentary, which claimed that senior Labour figures had interfered in cases of alleged anti-semitism.

Tom Watson accuses Labour leadership of 'smearing' ex-staff in anti-semitism row

Labour goes to war with BBC over Panorama probe into anti-semitism in party

Labour general secretary Jennie Formby 'deleted emails about anti-semitism', claims Panorama probe

Mr Matthews meanwhile revealed that he had been left suicidal by his time as head of disputes.

On the day the programme was aired, a Labour spokesperson 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."

But media lawyer Mark Lewis told The Observer those claims amounted to "very serious libels".

"Those representing the Labour party have acted in a way that set out to destroy the reputations of the whistleblowers," he said.

"In their effort to destroy these people, they have left it for the courts to decide who is telling the truth. It is ironic that the bosses at the workers' party have decided to go against the workers."

Confirming he had asked Mr Lewis to act on his behalf, Mr Matthews said: "The Labour party is choosing to ignore the central charges of antisemitism raised by myself and other whistleblowers on Panorama, and instead, they have engaged in a concerted campaign to damage my name."

And Ms Withers Green, a former disputes officer, told The Observer: "I have instructed Mark Lewis to clear my name of the defamatory accusations the Labour party has made against me, and I urge the party to cease attacking its own staff and activists and instead take action on what should be our common enemy: antisemitism."

But a Labour spokesperson said: "These are justified statements of opinion. Any claims will be vigorously defended."

MCCLUSKEY: WATSON 'A F***ING DISGRACE'

The legal warning came as Unite general secretary Len McCluskey launched a furious attack on Labour deputy Tom Watson over his response to the row.

The Unite general secretary said Mr Watson should be "f***ing ashamed" of his criticism of general secretary Jennie Formby, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Mr Watson has argued that Labour bosses “smeared” the former staff members who spoke out.

And he has urged Ms Formby to publish the party's response to an ongoing Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s investigation into claims it discriminated against Jewish people.

But that triggered a furious response from Mr McCluskey at the Durham Miner's Gala.

After an attack on the Conservatives, he told the crowd: "And whilst I’m talking about right wing critics, it would be remiss of me not to mention the disgraceful attacks levelled at our general secretary Jennie Formby.

"Wrong in normal circumstances but when Jennie is fighting cancer, they are despicable, so I have a simple message for Tom Watson and his pals in the media: you should fucking well be ashamed of yourself.

"Jennie, our message to you is that the Durham Miners’ Gala stands with you."

Mr McCluskey later doubled down on Twitter, directly telling the Labour deputy: "you are a f***ing disgrace".

Jeremy Corbyn meanwhile accused the Panorama team of making "many, many inaccuracies" in its broadcast, as party chiefs urged the BBC to remove the documentary from its iPlayer service.

He argued: "The programme adopted a predetermined position on its own website before it was broadcast.

"We’ve made very clear what our processes are. Our party members do have the right to be heard if they’re accused of anything and our party staff have a right to be supported and they are supported."