Jeremy Corbyn could be facing legal action after the ex-Labour leader claimed the party’s decision to pay a journalist damages risked “giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations”.
The Labour Party on Wednesday apologised to a group of whistleblowers who contributed to a TV investigation into its handling of antisemitism claims under Mr Corbyn‘s leadership.
Seven former employees from Labour’s governance and legal unit – who contributed to a BBC Panorama programme – had sued the party after it issued a press release describing them as having “personal and political axes to grind”.
It followed the programme’s broadcast in July 2019.
As well as apologising to the whistleblowers at a brief High Court hearing, Labour said it would pay “substantial damages” and accepted press statements made against them last year were “defamatory and false”.
Labour also apologised and agreed to pay damages to the journalist who presented the Panorama investigation, John Ware, for falsely accusing him of “deliberate and malicious misrepresentations designed to mislead the public”.
However, opening up a major rift with his successor Sir Keir Starmer, Mr Corbyn described the party’s decision to apologise and make payments to the former staff as a “political decision, not a legal one”.
“The decision to settle these claims in this way is disappointing, and risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle antisemitism in the Labour Party in recent years,” Mr Corbyn said in a statement.
He added that “legal advice was that the party had a strong defence”.
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Mr Corbyn’s statement could open the door to a further round of legal action from Mr Ware and some of the whistleblowers.
Asked if action would be taken arising from Mr Corbyn’s statement after the hearing, lawyer Mark Lewis, from Patron Law, who represented the Panorama whistleblowers and Mr Ware, said: “I can confirm that I have been instructed to pursue cases.”
Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, also criticised the Labour Party’s action.
“Today’s settlement is a misuse of Labour Party funds to settle a case it was advised we would win in court,” he said.
Mr McCluskey added an internal Labour report leaked earlier this year – which claimed anti-Jeremy Corbyn sentiment among Labour staff hindered efforts to tackle antisemitism – “tells a very different story about what happened”.
Speaking to Times Radio on Wednesday evening, Mr Ware said: “There have been a couple of statements – one from Mr McCluskey, and the other from Jeremy Corbyn – which seem to me to come dangerously close to suggesting, actually, what the Labour Party said about the whistleblowers and about me was true but for the fact that Keir Starmer decided to make a political settlement.
“In other words a settlement based on politics rather than the strength of our case.
“I am advised that is defamatory, I am advised that I could continue with this (legal action) against Mr Corbyn personally.
“I am thinking about that. I don’t particularly wish to continue litigating against members of the Labour Party but there’s a principle at stake here.
“I’ll think about that carefully.”