POLITICS
19/12/2019 14:58 GMT | Updated 19/12/2019 16:25 GMT

Ex-Labour MP Anna Turley Wins Libel Case Against Unite Over Skwawkbox Blog

Union slammed for "colossal waste of members' money" as former Redcar MP awarded £75k in damages.

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Labour MP Anna Turley has been awarded £75,000 in damages.

Former Labour MP Anna Turley has won a libel case against Unite over a blog on the left-wing website Skwawkbox. 

Turley – who lost her seat in Redcar, North Yorkshire, in last week’s general election – has been awarded £75,000 in damages by the High Court after she successfully sued the union and blogger Stephen Walker.  

Mr Justice Nicklin, who oversaw a High Court trial in London in November, ruled in her favour on Thursday.

Turley said a 2017 article on Walker’s left-wing Skwawkbox blog, which contained a press statement from Unite, libelled her by conveying the meaning that she had acted dishonestly when submitting an application to join the union.

She also says Unite misused her private information. 

The article related to a Unite membership application Turley made in December 2016.

Mr Justice Nicklin heard how Turley had applied to be a Unite member under a Community membership category.

He was told that Unite’s Community section was aimed at people not in paid employment and cost 50p a week.

A barrister representing Unite said Turley had been willing to “conceal, mislead and deceive”.

Anthony Hudson QC said Turley wanted to vote against Unite general secretary Len McCluskey in an election without being noticed and without the union knowing she was an MP.

Turley said the Skwawkbox article made “false and defamatory” allegations about her and impugned her honesty.

“I had not dishonestly joined the Community section of Unite and there was no reason to suspect me of being dishonest,” she had told the judge.
“I believed I was entitled to join it.”

She added: “I am not dishonest and have not lied or sought to mislead.”
Turley had links to a WhatsApp group of Labour MPs, known as the Birthday Club, opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the judge heard.

Hudson said her application flowed from a Birthday Club WhatsApp discussion.

He said the Birthday Club members had come together to oppose Corbyn’s leadership.

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Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite the union.

Ruth Smeeth, who was then Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, had circulated a link to Birthday Club members about a Unite general secretary election.

Hudson suggested that Turley had been part of an attempt to “oust” McCluskey and that the ultimate aim had been to “oust” Corbyn as Labour leader.

Speaking after the court case had concluded, Turley said: “This has been an extremely stressful and unpleasant process, and one I never imagined I would be engaged in with a trade union.

“It was also a source of great surprise to me that Unite were funding legal costs for Skwawkbox. I continue to find all this a colossal waste of members money and I hope serious questions will be asked of the leadership of the Union by its members. This issue could have been put to bed two and a half years ago with a simple apology and removal of the libellous article.

“It gave me no pleasure to undertake this action, but the accusations were so serious and damaging to my reputation that I had no choice but to defend myself through the courts.

“Free speech is always important, but politically-motivated libel and publishing untrue allegations as fact, simply serve to undermine democracy and further erode faith in elected representatives. I am very pleased that our legal system has provided justice today.” 

Unite bosses and Walker fought the case and said Turley had been dishonest and was not fit to be an MP.

They said the article was true or justified in the public interest and have said that they plan to appeal the decision. 

A spokesperson for Unite said it was disappointed with the court’s decision.

“She chose to sue for comments released by a Unite press spokesperson which appeared in a publication that we maintain we did not have responsibility for,” they said.