Labour fears payout to anti-Semitism whistleblowers will ‘open floodgates’

Keir Starmer - Jane Barlow/PA
Keir Starmer - Jane Barlow/PA

The Labour Party has warned that payouts to anti-Semitism whistleblowers could “open the floodgates” to hundreds more claims amounting to millions of pounds, the High Court has heard.

The Telegraph has previously revealed that the Labour Party risks spending up to £5 million if it loses claims arising out of anti-Semitism allegations.

The party is being sued by nine whistleblowers who made complaints of anti-Semitism to Labour. Their personal details were subsequently leaked in a report intended as a submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigation into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

The 850-page anti-Semitism report, which never was submitted to the equalities watchdog, was leaked shortly after Sir Keir Starmer replaced Jeremy Corbyn as party leader in April 2020.

The Labour Party is defending the claim against the whistleblowers and, in turn, has issued a counterclaim against five former staffers – including former Guardian journalist Seumas Milne – it alleges leaked the report. They have all instructed media law firm Carter Ruck to defend the counterclaim.

Seumas Milne - Christopher Pledger/The Telegraph
Seumas Milne - Christopher Pledger/The Telegraph

However, The Telegraph can now reveal further details about the mounting costs that the Labour Party could face – concerning “millions” in damages and potentially hundreds more claimants – following a hearing at the High Court on Tuesday.

Lawyers representing Labour said that if the nine whistleblowers succeed in their claim that the party is responsible for the leaked EHRC report – and not the five former staffers that the party alleges are to blame – then it would “inevitably ‘lift the liability lid’” meaning that all of the almost 400 people affected by the report “may be contemplating suing the party”.

Anya Proops KC, representing the Labour Party, said “this could lead to all involved – 380 people – bringing claims against the party”. “It’s reasonable that the party could be confronted by many claims, in millions of pounds.”

She also told the High Court, sitting before Master Dagnall, that a further 23 claims have already been issued over the leaked report and up to 17 are at pre-action stage.

Ms Proops described the case as being of “enormous magnitude” and “could open the litigation floodgates” meaning that “a significant number of people affected by this leak will go after the party”. “Our contention is effectively that [the whistleblowers have] sued the wrong defendant.”

Ms Proops also told the court that the whistleblowers’ claims are “wide-ranging with significant implications for the party’s reputation and ability to attract members”. “This is never the position the party would wish to be in but it’s the position we’ve unfortunately found ourselves in as a result of these claimants bringing the claim.”

She also said that “the vast majority of complainants prior to the leak had engaged in public, putting their head above the parapet”.

“The value [of the claims] is zero[...] Our position is we don’t want those allegations hanging over the party.”

The Labour Party also claimed that the whistleblowers had “put their head above the parapet” in raising concerns about anti-Semitism allegations and concluded that, as a result, their claims “are worth nothing”.

Jonathan Turner, representing the nine whistleblowers, responded saying: “I criticise a lot of the defence conduct in this case… the case is on discrimination and victimisation – (my clients were) punished and subject to detriment and unwanted behaviour because they had complained of anti-Semitism.”

A further hearing will be held in February.