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SIR KEIR STARMER faced a backlash today following the “disappointing” decision to pay out an estimated six-figure sum to former senior staffers who claimed defamation following a BBC Panorama investigation into allegations of anti-semitism within Labour.
Jeremy Corbyn criticised Labour’s “political” decision to apologise to the ex-employees and pay damages reportedly amounting to £500,000.
The Islington North MP, who was leader at the time of the 2019 BBC documentary Is Labour Anti-Semitic? said that the decision risked “giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations” that the party was unwilling to investigate claims of anti-semitism.
He noted that an internal party report leaked in April showed that anti-Corbyn senior Labour staffers had conspired to sabotage the party’s processes to deal with anti-semitism allegations and Mr Corbyn’s ability to win the 2017 election.
Mr Corbyn also said that Labour was advised by lawyers that it had a “strong defence” against the litigants’ claims, using evidence from the leaked report which contains concerns about “some” of the litigants.
The report also revealed incidents that were described as racist and sexist towards women working in the Labour HQ and Labour MPs.
The seven litigants had worked in the legal and governance unit, were responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct by party members and had contributed to the BBC investigation.
Katherine Buckingham, Michael Creighton, Samuel Matthews, Daniel Hogan, Louise Withers Green, Martha Robinson and Benjamin Westerman sued Labour after the party issued a press release following the documentary, saying they had “personal and political axes to grind.”
During the High Court proceedings on Wednesday, Labour issued an unreserved apology over “defamatory and false allegations” made by the party following the BBC’s investigation.
At the same hearing, Labour also apologised and agreed to pay “substantial damages” to John Ware – the journalist behind the Panorama programme – for falsely accusing him of “deliberate and malicious misrepresentations designed to mislead the public.”
After Mr Corbyn made his statement, Mr Ware announced that he would be suing the former leader over his comments.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite — Labour’s biggest donor — condemned the decision to pay the money as a “misuse of funds” and added that Labour had received legal advice that it would win the case.
Left-wing Jewish group Jewish Voice for Labour also described the promise to pay damages from subscription payments of thousands of party members as “deeply disappointing.”
It also questioned why there was a “complete media blackout” on the leaked internal party report into the operation of Labour’s disciplinary processes and the “activities of several of the litigants.”
David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialists’ Group told the Star that it is “galling” that money from the subs of “poorer and more exploited sectors of British society” was paid out in a case that the party was advised it could win.
He added: “In the last five years, people from the poorer and more exploited sectors of British society have been giving beyond what they could afford to support a Labour Party that was on their side, and fighting for a fairer society for all.
“To see that money given away in an out of court settlement on a case which the party was advised it could successfully defend, is galling.
“As a Jewish Labour member. I’m concerned about antisemitism from any quarter but I know that the common media narrative about Labour and antisemitism, typified by that Panorama programme, does not stack up.
“Its claims are directly contradicted by the leaked report, which showed that the Party’s handling of complaints of antisemitism was hindered by former senior officials factional hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn.
“We all know that racism, including antisemitism, has become much more severe in Britain on the watch of the Tory Party. Ironically, they have so far avoided scrutiny on this aspect of their record from the likes of both Panorama and the EHRC.”
Socialist filmmaker Ken Loach pointed out that the Panorama documentary had been criticised for “lack of impartiality, lack of statistical context and failure to challenge witness statements.”
He told the Star: “Keir Starmer will have used his much-praised ‘forensic’ skills to examine these accusations in great detail.
“Can party members, whose funds will be used for the pay-outs, see his rigorous interrogation of the evidence, including the leaked emails, that led to his apology in court?
“We would hate to think Starmer has sacrificed principle for a quiet life.”
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