Labour apologises and pays “substantial damages” in Panorama libel case

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Labour has issued a statement in court, in which it “apologises unreservedly” to former Labour staffers and journalist John Ware in the Panorama libel case and agrees to pay “substantial damages”.

William Bennet QC read out an agreed statement to the High Court this morning, saying that the “Labour Party is here today to publicly set the record straight and to apologise”.

The case involves seven former Labour staffers who appeared in the programme and BBC journalist John Ware. The staffers claimed senior figures had attacked their reputations and suggested they had personal motives to undermine the party.

The party said today that it had “issued a press release that contained defamatory and false allegations against the whistleblowers” in the documentary – and that it “unreservedly withdraws these allegations”.

A party spokesperson at the time had described the staffers as “disaffected officials who have always opposed Corbyn’s leadership, worked to actively undermine it and have both personal and political axes to grind”.

Labour said that Ware had made “deliberate and malicious misrepresentations designed to mislead the public”. But it said today that its statements had included “invented quotes”, “flouted journalistic ethics” and were “defamatory”.

In its statement this morning, Labour said that it was “profoundly sorry for the distress” caused by the “publication and republication” of the allegations.

The apology and settlement today follows reports that an agreement had been reached last week. New Labour leader Keir Starmer had been clear about his intention to settle the case.

When the documentary was aired last year, a party spokesperson stated that the programme was a “malicious, selective briefing from disaffected, politically hostile former employees” and complained to Ofcom. Its complaints were rejected.

During the leadership contest, all four of the candidates running at the time disavowed Labour’s response to the Panorama programme and committed to settling the case at a Jewish Labour Movement hustings.

The Guardian reports that the settlement is believed to have cost the party between £600,000 and £750,000 – with around £200,000 in damages agreed for the eight individuals.

Corbyn responded this afternoon, saying that the “decision to apologise today and make substantial payments to former staff who sued the party in relation to last year’s Panorama programme is a political decision, not a legal one”.

“Our legal advice was that the party had a strong defence, and the evidence in the leaked Labour report that is now the subject of an national executive committee inquiry led by Martin Forde QC strengthened concerns about the role played by some of those who took part in the programme.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey tweeted that this is a “misuse of Labour Party funds to settle a case it was advised we would win in court”. He added that the leaked antisemitism report “tells a very different story about what happened”.

Other labour movement figures welcomed the development today. Chris Elmore MP said he was “pleased that the party has taken this decision” and concluded that it was “absolutely the right thing to do”.

The Jewish Labour Movement welcomed the move by Labour, issuing a statement in which it said: “Under new leadership, our hope is that the party will continue to demonstrate this willingness to change and act decisively against antisemitism.”

Wes Streeting tweeted that “the courage of the whistleblowers is extraordinary” and that his “admiration for them is matched in equal measure with contempt for those who sought to silence and smear them”.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy told BBC News this afternoon that she “really welcomes” the outcome at the High Court, adding that the party is “taking steps today to get it right” on antisemitism.

Asked whether Corbyn should challenge the ruling, she said: “No I don’t think we should be challenging this. I think we need to draw a line under what has been a very sorry episode in relation to the way that Labour has dealt with antisemitism.”

Below is the full text of the apology issued to John Ware today.

The Labour Party has today issued an unreserved apology to John Ware, who investigated and presented the July 2019 BBC Panorama programme about antisemitism within the Labour Party.

Before the broadcast of the programme the Labour Party issued a press release that contained defamatory and false allegations about John Ware. 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.

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.

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 and the free press and freedom of expression which includes the right to object to things written or published. We are determined to deliver that change.

Below is the full text of the apology issued to the former Labour staffers today.

The Labour Party has today issued an unreserved apology to the former members of staff who contributed to a BBC Panorama programme about antisemitism within the Labour Party in July 2019.

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.

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.

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