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Labour will pay “substantial damages” to whistleblowers who contributed to a BBC expose of its handling of anti-Semitism in a move which triggered a clash between party leader Sir Keir Starmer and his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn. The party also issued an unreserved apology over “defamatory and false allegations” made following a BBC Panorama investigation. Following the announcement, leader of Unite Union Len McCluskey hit out at the settlement and labelled is a “misuse of funds” which Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said is “completely wrong”.
Speaking on BBC Two’s Politics Live, Ms Nandy said: “I would just like to say that I believe Len is completely wrong about that and the way some Labour party staff who spoke out bravely about what they saw happening in an attempt to set it right.
“The treatment of them was wrong, we got that wrong and we should say sorry in full and we should help take steps today to set that right.
“Don’t forget that there’s been a huge impact on them over the last few years.
“They’ve had to live with this, they’ve had a lot of criticism and Keir Starmer, Angela Rayner and I made a commitment in the leadership contest all made a commitment that we would deal with anti-Semitism and that includes saying sorry for the things we got wrong in the past.”
Len McCluskey wrote on Twitter earlier: “Today’s settlement is a misuse of Labour Party funds to settle a case it was advised we would win in court.
“The leaked report on how anti-Semitism was handled tells a very different story about what happened.”
Mr Corbyn said it was “disappointing” that the party had settled the claim, adding that it was a “political decision, not a legal one”.
But it is the latest sign of Sir Keir’s attempts to draw a clear distinction between the party he leads and the one over which Mr Corbyn presided.
Seven former employees from the party’s governance and legal unit, who were responsible for the investigation of allegations of misconduct by party members, sued Labour after it issued a press release describing them as having “personal and political axes to grind”.
The legal action followed the broadcast in July 2019 of a BBC Panorama programme titled Is Labour Anti-Semitic?.
Katherine Buckingham, Michael Creighton, Samuel Matthews, Daniel Hogan, Louise Withers Green, Martha Robinson and Benjamin Westerman all had concerns there was “a lack of commitment” by Labour to properly investigate anti-Semitism within the party, the High Court heard on Wednesday.
At a brief hearing in London, their barrister William Bennett QC said: “The whistleblowers were highly critical of the Labour Party’s approach to tackling anti-Semitism within its ranks.”
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He told Mr Justice Nicklin: “Before the broadcast of the Panorama programme, the Labour Party issued a press release that contained defamatory and false allegations about the whistleblowers.”
Mr Bennett said Labour “accused the whistleblowers of having acted in bad faith during and after their employment with the intention of harming the Labour Party” – allegations he said were “untrue and defamatory”.
At the same hearing, Labour also apologised to John Ware – the journalist who made the Panorama programme – for falsely accusing him of “deliberate and malicious misrepresentations designed to mislead the public”.
The party agreed to pay “substantial damages” to the journalist.
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