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Labour drops legal claim against five ex-staffers accused of leaking antisemitism report

Labour Party ends legal action against staff from the Jeremy Corbyn era who were accused of 'conspiring' against Keir Starmer's leadership
A Labour sign is pictured during the opening day of the annual Labour Party conference in Brighton, on the south coast of England on 25 September 2021 (AFP)

The UK's Labour Party has dropped its legal claim against five former staffers it accused of leaking a controversial internal report on antisemitism.

The announcement was made just days after the party's legal director Alex Barros Curtis, who handled the legal action, was parachuted in as Labour candidate for the safe seat of Cardiff West. 

In a statement issued on Thursday, lawyers Carter Ruck, which acted for the five, announced that Labour "is discontinuing its legal claims against Karie Murphy, Seumas Milne, Georgie Robertson, Harry Hayball and Laura Murray on a ‘no order as to costs’ basis.

"The five welcome the resolution of the claims."

The former staffers had been accused by Labour of leaking a controversial internal party report, which included private emails and messages, just after Sir Keir Starmer became leader in April 2020.

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The messages contained a number of allegations - including vitriolic and foul-mouthed abuse towards former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's leadership team.

Crucially it suggested that, for two thirds of the period that the Equalities and Human Rights Commision (EHRC) probed allegations of antisemitism inside Labour, the party's headquarters and the complaints procedure were under the control of individuals working actively to undermine the authority of Corbyn's leadership.  

The report provided examples of sexism, bullying, Islamophobia and anti-Black racism - with one official writing that Diane Abbott, a senior member of the Corbyn front bench, "literally makes me sick".

'[It is] another example of Starmer allowing his bully boys to get carried away with their war on the left when it's clearly not in the Party’s electoral or financial interests to do so'

- Mish Rahman, Labour NEC member

It also suggested anti-Corbyn officials had undermined the 2017 general election campaign.

The leak prompted a group of Corbyn's opponents, named without their consent in the report, to launch successful legal action against the party for failing to protect their data, invasion of privacy and libel.

In the wake of the action, Labour, then under the leadership of Keir Starmer, accused the five Corbyn-era staffers of entering "into a conspiracy" to put the document into the public domain - and launched the court case against them.

All the staffers robustly denied any "involvement or complicity in the leak whatsoever".

The party pursued the legal action even after Britain's data watchdog determined two years ago that there was "insufficient evidence" that any of the five staffers was responsible.

Labour could now face the prospect of paying more than $2.55m (£2m) in costs resulting from the court action, having already spent around $2m (£1.5m).

'Pointless and vindictive failed lawsuit'

In the wake of the decision, Mish Rahman, a member of Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC), accused the party of wasting "millions of pounds" of members' money.

Rahman accused Keir Starmer of pursuing a "pointless and vindictive failed lawsuit" and of "showing minority ethnic voters that he has no interest in tackling racism when it comes from his own factional supporters".

"[It is] another example of Starmer allowing his bully boys to get carried away with their war on the left when it's clearly not in the party’s electoral or financial interests to do so," he added.

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In 2022 the Forde report, which was commissioned by Starmer to investigate the leaked report, concluded that "we could not identify the source of the leak".

The Forde report also identified "serious problems of discrimination in the operations of the [Labour] Party" while noting "overt and underlying racism and sexism apparent in some of the content of the WhatsApp messages between the Party’s most senior staff."

An unnamed member of the NEC told the Guardian last August that Labour should be "questioning this monumental waste of members' and affiliates' money pursuing what appears to be a pointless political vendetta".

"The NEC has been kept in the dark about these costs, which are spiralling out of control. Candidates will be up in arms that we are gambling with the party finances needed to win their seats. We need to have a laser focus on getting the Tories out," the source added:

Last year, Labour revealed that it ended the financial year 2022 with a slim financial surplus of almost $3.5m (£3m), with increased revenue coming from commercial sources, fundraising and donations. The previous year, it recorded losses of $6.1m (£4.8m) after redundancy payouts and membership losses.

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