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Why I HAD to go to war with Labour’s vile attack dogs, by JOHN WARE

A year ago, the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn declared all-out war on the BBC. Why? Because of a Panorama programme in which seven former Labour party staffers blew the whistle about anti-Semitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party. 

They explained how they felt a growing factionalism under Corbyn had created a safe space for anti-Semitic views inside the party. 

I was the reporter on the programme, and Labour’s response was to accuse me of knowingly promoting falsehoods and invented quotes. 

I had misrepresented facts and fabricated facts, the party claimed – it was all part of my ‘deliberate and malicious’ attempt ‘designed to mislead the public’. 

Labour implied that I had known perfectly well that Corbyn’s office was committed to dealing with anti-Semitism, and was getting the job done. 

But instead of portraying that simple truth, the party claimed I tried to convince the public of what I knew to be false. It didn’t stop there. 

The party accused the whistle-blowers of being motivated by ‘disaffection’ with Corbyn and the Labour Left, saying they simply had ‘personal and political axes to grind’. The Corbynistas’ outrageous defamation triggered a yearlong fusillade of falsehoods from a stream of Left-wing bloggers, media ‘activists’, the Corbynsupporting ‘people-powered’ movement Momentum, and ‘alt-Left’ outlets – all of whom share a conviction that the mainstream media is biased and fundamentally dishonest. 

JOHN WARE: A year ago, the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn declared all-out war on the BBC. Why? Because of a Panorama programme in which seven former Labour party staffers blew the whistle about anti-Semitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party

Invective 

It is certainly true that there is some dishonesty in the mainstream media. But whatever their faults, journalists working in the mainstream generally respect basic standards of accuracy and fairness. 

The ‘alternative media’, both Left and Right, do not. When you’re on the receiving end of unrelenting invective – I’ve been called a ghoul, repugnant, a liar and worse – there comes a point when you have a choice: do you turn a cheek and continue to let these people mouth off lies that impact on your reputation? Or do you do something about it? I chose the latter course. 

As a result, in open court, the Labour Party has not only ‘unreservedly withdrawn’ the allegations against me and the whistle-blowers. 

JOHN WARE: I was the reporter on the programme, and Labour's response was to accuse me of knowingly promoting falsehoods and invented quotes

JOHN WARE: I was the reporter on the programme, and Labour’s response was to accuse me of knowingly promoting falsehoods and invented quotes

It has also paid us both ‘substantial damages’ and expressed its ‘profound regret’. It is an extraordinary turn of events. 

At times, I have to remind myself that behind the defamation was the Labour Party of Clement Atlee, Aneurin Bevan and Harold Wilson. 

The party people joined because it fought all forms of racism, supported the underdog and championed free speech. There’s an unwritten code that says we journalists should never sue – because however offensive or defamatory criticism of our journalism may be, we hold free speech sacrosanct. 

But on much of the internet, basic standards of accuracy and fairness have disappeared. Political and media ‘activists’ often fabricate facts, disregard truths and tell lies. At the moment, they get away with it. 

Unlike journalists in the mainstream media, they are not held to account by professional bodies or even by the law of libel. And it is having a corrupting effect on the way we communicate with each other. 

Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn declared Labour’s decision to settle with the whistle-blowers was a political one, rather than a legal one. 

I am advised this in itself is defamatory and am consulting my legal team over whether to sue the former Labour leader. 

Meanwhile pro-Corbyn conspiracy theorists persist in repeating their falsehoods. Zealotry has led them to disregard the most basic rules that govern mainstream journalism. They seem to think that using a blog or Twitter to brand someone a ‘rogue journalist’ or a ‘liar’ or fundamentally dishonest is somehow OK. 

But it is not OK – and I hope the success of my proceedings against them will encourage them to think before they blog. 

Some of the wildest criticism against Panorama came from Jon Lansman, then chair of Momentum, who accused me and my BBC colleagues of having ‘flouted basic journalistic standards from beginning to end’. 

What did the whistleblowers say? 

LOUISE WITHERS GREEN: The former Labour Party disputes officer revealed she had agreed to sign a so-called non-disclosure agreement (NDA) when she left the party after witnessing ‘horrendous’ disciplinary issues. ‘I felt a bit complicit, actually… in the Labour Party not dealing with antiSemitism properly.’

BEN WESTERMAN: The only Jewish member of the disputes team, he was quizzed on his background. ‘The person got up and then turned back to me and said ‘Where are you from?’ I said ‘What do you mean where am I from?’ and they said ‘Are you from Israel?’ What can you say to that? You are assumed to be in cahoots with the Israeli government. It’s this obsession…that just all the time spills… into anti-Semitism.’

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DAN HOGAN: The investigator on Labour’s disputes team revealed how officials linked to the party’s former general secretary, Jennie Formby, had overruled decisions linked to anti-Semitism. Asked if Jeremy Corbyn would survive a disciplinary hearing, he said: ‘I don’t think he would… I think he would be expelled.’

SAM MATTHEWS: Labour’s former head of disputes said the burden of dealing with the issue left him feeling helpless. ‘I actively considered committing suicide. Walking off her [Jennie Formby’s] roof – she had a balcony outside her office – as some way not to feel trapped any more. I sat at my desk thinking ‘I can’t do this any more, I am being asked to do things I am… not comfortable with’.’

MIKE CREIGHTON: Labour’s former head of disputes said he was laughed at by Seumas Milne, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allies. ‘He actually laughed at me. I thought he actually wanted to know how we tackle anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. ‘I think what he actually meant to say was ‘how do we deal with the bad publicity we’re getting?’

KAT BUCKINGHAM: The former chief investigator in Labour’s disputes team said she left the party feeling ‘stuck between… an angry and obstructive leader’s office and an arcane disciplinary system’. She said: ‘I couldn’t hold the tide and I felt so powerless and I felt guilty and I felt like I failed… and yeah I had a breakdown.’ 

Nonsense 

Let’s see how Lansman’s own ‘journalistic standards’ measure up. On the morning of the programme’s transmission, Momentum disseminated a video which said that an earlier 2015 Panorama of mine about Corbyn ‘made claims that were later disproven’, and also that the BBC were forced ‘to issue a public apology’ over ‘my appalling journalism’ in another Panorama investigation, in 2006, this time into the London-based charity Interpal which is concerned with Palestinian relief. 

No one from Momentum had approached me before disseminating this nonsense on the internet. So I sent a polite text to Lansman to say that none of Momentum’s claims were true and that had I been offered a right of reply I would have explained why. Corbyn never pressed ahead with his complaint about the 2015 programme because in our response, the BBC had shown how disingenuous his complaint was. 

Nor had the BBC had to ‘apologise’ for my journalism, either then or at any time in the 26 years I was with the Corporation. 

Lansman even suggested that one of Panorama’s whistle-blowers, Sam Matthews, had deliberately consulted Corbyn’s office by email on anti-Semitism cases so that he could later smear Corbyn by alleging that the Leader’s office had interfered in complaints. 

‘We do not know why Matthews did this, we have not asked him, nor have we asked any other witness,’ went the bizarre conspiracy theory, ‘… but maybe he was conspiring to do something calculating that when subsequently investigated it would look bad on those people he had emailed…’ 

Lansman and those in Corbyn’s office who bought into the conspiracy theory seem to have no awareness of just how ridiculous and defamatory such speculation is. 

The only smidgeon of truth in this pile of rubbish is that from mid-March 2018, Matthews and the assistant General Secretary Emilie Oldknow did refer anti-Semitism cases to Corbyn’s office for approval. 

But this had nothing to do with trying to discredit Corbyn. Rather, they had wearied of trying to second guess both Corbyn’s office and hostile NEC members on precisely where the bar lay on anti-Semitism. 

Like the Labour Party, Lansman has also had to apologise to the whistle-blowers. The witless bias spewed out after transmission of the Panorama programme by Lansman, Momentum and the Labour Party has become ingrained in the alt-Left Twittersphere.

It has libelled the whistle-blowers as a bunch of calculating plotters, and me as not merely an Islamophobe, but a supporter of the far Right and a journalist who’s been disciplined by the BBC. There is not a word of truth in any of it. 

The pro-Corbyn alt-Left outlets, notably Skwawkbox and The Canary, have also dismissed anti-Semitism complaints as little more than a smear concocted to damage Corbyn, to silence his support for Palestinians and to prevent the success of his socialist project. 

Curb 

Which is more blatant nonsense. 

Most Jewish members of Labour are strong supporters of Palestinian rights and are highly critical of the Right-wing drift of Israeli politics. 

They just don’t think that the world’s only Jewish state should be ‘disappeared’ or compared to Nazi Germany – a comparison which The Canary editor KerryAnne Mendoza has made. Yesterday’s legal settlement may curb some of Panorama’s critics. And that is important, even if it does not stop all of them. 

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As journalism seeps into the social-media jungle of the ‘activist’ fringe and further away from the mainstream where it is at least governed by clearly defined codes, there is a cost to democracy. 

It is broadcasters like the BBC that are trying to hold the line on standards, not the self-appointed ‘media activists’ who make up their own rules and whose self-righteousness leaves them with dangerously little self-doubt. 

If we want fair and truthful journalism to prevail over deceitful propaganda on the internet, we must hold their authors to account. 

If we continue to let them get away with it, truth will not be the only casualty. Democracy itself will be wounded – perhaps fatally.

Labour’s humiliation: Payout for seven anti-semitism whistleblowers hit by Corbynite smear campaign

Labour yesterday issued an unreserved apology to seven whistleblowers smeared by the party after they raised concerns over anti-Semitism. 

In a bid to draw a line under the disastrous Jeremy Corbyn years, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer agreed to pay ‘substantial damages’ to former employees who contributed to a BBC probe into whether the party had victimised Jews. 

In a humiliating statement in the High Court, the party accepted it had made ‘false and defamatory’ comments about the whistleblowers and had caused them ‘distress, embarrassment and hurt’. 

The party also paid damages to John Ware, the veteran journalist behind the Panorama programme. It is believed the affair has cost Labour up to £500,000 in legal costs and damages. 

Labour yesterday issued an unreserved apology to seven whistleblowers smeared by the party after they raised concerns over anti-Semitism. In a bid to draw a line under the disastrous Jeremy Corbyn (pictured, Mr Corbyn with his adviser Seamus Milne in 2016) years, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer agreed to pay 'substantial damages' to former employees who contributed to a BBC probe into whether the party had victimised Jews

Labour yesterday issued an unreserved apology to seven whistleblowers smeared by the party after they raised concerns over anti-Semitism. In a bid to draw a line under the disastrous Jeremy Corbyn (pictured, Mr Corbyn with his adviser Seamus Milne in 2016) years, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer agreed to pay ‘substantial damages’ to former employees who contributed to a BBC probe into whether the party had victimised Jews

In the Commons yesterday, Sir Keir pointedly told the Prime Minister that Labour was ‘under new management’ with his moderate leadership. 

But hard-Left former leader Mr Corbyn said it was ‘disappointing’ that the party had settled the claim, adding that it was a ‘political decision, not a legal one’ – prompting the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism to call for him to be suspended from the Labour Party. 

Last night Mr Ware said he was considering instructing lawyers to launch action against Mr Corbyn for defamation. 

The apology 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 investigating allegations of misconduct by 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 the Panorama show Is Labour Anti-Semitic?. 

The party officials alleged in the programme that senior figures close to the leadership, including strategy chief Seumas Milne, had interfered in the process of dealing with anti-Semitism complaints. They also claimed they had faced a huge increase in complaints since Mr Corbyn became leader in 2015.  

LOUISE WITHERS GREEN: The former Labour Party disputes officer revealed she had agreed to sign a so-called non-disclosure agreement (NDA) when she left the party after witnessing ‘horrendous’ disciplinary issues. ‘I felt a bit complicit, actually... in the Labour Party not dealing with antiSemitism properly.’

BEN WESTERMAN: The only Jewish member of the disputes team, he was quizzed on his background. ‘The person got up and then turned back to me and said “Where are you from?” I said “What do you mean where am I from?” and they said “Are you from Israel?” What can you say to that? You are assumed to be in cahoots with the Israeli government. It’s this obsession…that just all the time spills... into anti-Semitism.’

Seven former employees from the party’s governance and legal unit, who were responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct by 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 the Panorama show Is Labour Anti-Semitic? (left, Louise Withers Green; right, Ben Westerman on the BBC Panorama show)

DAN HOGAN: The investigator on Labour’s disputes team revealed how officials linked to the party’s former general secretary, Jennie Formby, had overruled decisions linked to anti-Semitism. Asked if Jeremy Corbyn would survive a disciplinary hearing, he said: ‘I don’t think he would... I think he would be expelled.’

SAM MATTHEWS: Labour’s former head of disputes said the burden of dealing with the issue left him feeling helpless. ‘I actively considered committing suicide. Walking off her [Jennie Formby’s] roof – she had a balcony outside her office – as some way not to feel trapped any more. I sat at my desk thinking “I can’t do this any more, I am being asked to do things I am... not comfortable with”.’

The party officials alleged in the programme that senior figures close to the leadership, including strategy chief Seumas Milne, had interfered in the process of dealing with anti-Semitism complaints. They also claimed they had faced a huge increase in complaints since Mr Corbyn became leader in 2015 (left, Dan Hogan; right, Sam Matthews)

MIKE CREIGHTON: Labour’s former head of disputes said he was laughed at by Seumas Milne, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allies. ‘He actually laughed at me. I thought he actually wanted to know how we tackle anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. ‘I think what he actually meant to say was “how do we deal with the bad publicity we’re getting?”’

KAT BUCKINGHAM: The former chief investigator in Labour’s disputes team said she left the party feeling ‘stuck between… an angry and obstructive leader’s office and an arcane disciplinary system’. She said: ‘I couldn’t hold the tide and I felt so powerless and I felt guilty and I felt like I failed… and yeah I had a breakdown.’

The High Court heard that the seven whistleblowers – 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 investigate anti-Semitism properly (left, Mike Creighton; right, Kat Buckingham)

What did the whistleblowers say? 

LOUISE WITHERS GREEN: The former Labour Party disputes officer revealed she had agreed to sign a so-called non-disclosure agreement (NDA) when she left the party after witnessing ‘horrendous’ disciplinary issues. ‘I felt a bit complicit, actually… in the Labour Party not dealing with antiSemitism properly.’

BEN WESTERMAN: The only Jewish member of the disputes team, he was quizzed on his background. ‘The person got up and then turned back to me and said ‘Where are you from?’ I said ‘What do you mean where am I from?’ and they said ‘Are you from Israel?’ What can you say to that? You are assumed to be in cahoots with the Israeli government. It’s this obsession…that just all the time spills… into anti-Semitism.’

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DAN HOGAN: The investigator on Labour’s disputes team revealed how officials linked to the party’s former general secretary, Jennie Formby, had overruled decisions linked to anti-Semitism. Asked if Jeremy Corbyn would survive a disciplinary hearing, he said: ‘I don’t think he would… I think he would be expelled.’

SAM MATTHEWS: Labour’s former head of disputes said the burden of dealing with the issue left him feeling helpless. ‘I actively considered committing suicide. Walking off her [Jennie Formby’s] roof – she had a balcony outside her office – as some way not to feel trapped any more. I sat at my desk thinking ‘I can’t do this any more, I am being asked to do things I am… not comfortable with’.’

MIKE CREIGHTON: Labour’s former head of disputes said he was laughed at by Seumas Milne, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allies. ‘He actually laughed at me. I thought he actually wanted to know how we tackle anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. ‘I think what he actually meant to say was ‘how do we deal with the bad publicity we’re getting?’

KAT BUCKINGHAM: The former chief investigator in Labour’s disputes team said she left the party feeling ‘stuck between… an angry and obstructive leader’s office and an arcane disciplinary system’. She said: ‘I couldn’t hold the tide and I felt so powerless and I felt guilty and I felt like I failed… and yeah I had a breakdown.’ 

The High Court heard that the seven whistleblowers – 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 investigate anti-Semitism properly. 

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 antiSemitism 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 them 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 apologised to Mr Ware for falsely accusing him of ‘deliberate and malicious misrepresentations designed to mislead the public’. 

The party agreed to pay him ‘substantial damages’. Labour has declined to give details of the over all settlement yesterday, but the damages bill alone is thought to be under £200,000. 

In a statement, the claimants’ solicitor Mark Lewis said: ‘Today in the High Court, the Labour Party retracted its false allegations made about the Panorama programme asking whether Labour was anti-Semitic. 

‘The answer was a clear ‘Yes’. Labour chose to double-down and attack the programme’s presenter, John Ware, and the whistleblowers rather than addressing the truth of the problem.’ 

Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations under Mr Corbyn’s leadership is the subject of an inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – and Sir Keir has already received a draft report from the watchdog. 

The party said Labour is ‘committed to tackling anti-Semitism’ under Sir Keir and deputy leader Angela Rayner. 

In a statement, it stressed: ‘Anti-Semitism 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.’ 

Outside court, shadow attorney general Lord Falconer said: ‘We have brought to an end a chapter when the Labour Party was accusing whistleblowers of behaving dishonestly and I’m incredibly glad that we have brought it to an end.’ 

Labour Jewish MP Dame Margaret Hodge said: ‘This is a big step in the right direction.’ 

The Jewish Labour Movement said: ‘It is a sad reflection of its historic role as the party of working people that Labour sought to pursue and silence its former employees for speaking out against racism.’ 

However, Mr Corbyn condemned Labour’s decision to apologise to the whistleblowers. It is understood he tried to challenge the move this week, but failed. 

Last night he claimed lawyers had advised the party it could have won, stressing: ‘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 anti-Semitism.’ 

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