Jeremy Corbyn faces legal action after blasting Labour response to Panorama row

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Jeremy Corbyn faces legal action after he blasted the Labour Party’s response to a major anti-Semitism row.

Lawyer Mark Lewis has received fresh instructions against the former leader – just hours after the Labour Party settled a libel case that began when Mr Corbyn was in post.

The row surrounds a BBC Panorama documentary, in which whistleblowers hit out at Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism claims.

When it aired last summer, Labour claimed the whistleblowers had “axes to grind”. But today the party withdrew that “defamatory and false” claim, and agreed “substantial” damages to seven whistleblowers.

The party also apologised to the documentary’s reporter John Ware for falsely accusing him of “malicious misrepresentations”.

But hours after the matter was settled at the High Court, Mr Corbyn made a personal statement saying he was “disappointed”.

The ex-leader claimed Labour’s decision to apologise “is a political decision, not a legal one”, and “risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle antisemitism in the Labour Party in recent years.”

It is understood Mr Ware and the whistleblowers are concerned Mr Corbyn’s statement repeats the original defamatory claims.

Panorama reporter John Ware has asked lawyer Mark Lewis to initiate libel action.

It’s understood a letter could be sent to Mr Corbyn in the coming days, the first step of a legal case.

It is not yet confirmed if any of the seven whistleblowers have decided to join the legal action.

Mr Lewis, from Patron Law, who represented the Panorama whistleblowers and Mr Ware, said: “I can confirm that I have been instructed to pursue cases.”

Seven former employees took Labour to the High Court after the party claimed they had “personal and political axes to grind” by appearing on the show.

Today, Labour’s barrister Mark Henderson told the court: “The Labour Party acknowledges that these claims about the claimants are untrue, and we retract and withdraw them and undertake not to repeat them.

“The Labour Party is here today to publicly set the record straight and to apologise to the claimants for the distress and embarrassment that it has caused.”

The whistleblowers were Katherine Buckingham, Michael Creighton, Samuel Matthews, Daniel Hogan, Louise Withers Green, Martha Robinson and Benjamin Westerman.

They had worked in the party’s governance and legal unit, where they were responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct by party members.

The Panorama programme included claims that senior figures close to Jeremy Corbyn interfered in anti-Semitism investigations.

At today’s brief High Court 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.”

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”.

Mr Bennett said Labour had alleged that Mr Ware “invented quotes, flouted journalistic ethics and … knowingly promoted falsehoods” in pursuit of “a pre-determined outcome to the question asked by the Panorama programme”.

He added that the party had agreed to pay “substantial damages” to Mr Ware.

A Labour Party spokesman said: “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.”

Asked if it was a “political decision” to settle the case, a spokesman for Mr Starmer said: “It’s worth remembering that during the leadership contest all three candidates… said they believed the party had not taken the right approach at the time.”

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