Jeremy Corbyn is demanding an apology and donation to charity from a Tory MP who falsely claimed he had “sold British secrets to communist spies”, HuffPost has learned.
Lawyers acting for the Labour leader have written to Bradley, a Tory party vice chairman, to insist that he tweets the apology to all his followers.
Although the tweet has been deleted, their letter sent to Bradley points out the spy allegation is damaging and potentially harmful, and must not be repeated.
The four legal demands are that Bradley:
- confirms in writing that the defamatory statement will not be repeated in any form
- tweets an apology and asks followers to retweet it
- makes a donation to a charity of Jeremy Corbyn’s choice in lieu of damages
- and pays Jeremy Corbyn’s legal costs.
Bradley had tweeted on Monday that Corbyn had “sold British secrets” to foreign agents following a series of tabloid allegations about meetings the Labour leader and other MPs attended in the 1980s.
Jan Sarkocy, a former Czech spy, has claimed the Labour leader was on his payroll during the Cold War, but Corbyn issued a video message on Tuesday night rounding on newspaper proprietors over the ‘smears’.
Corbyn had been urged to sue for libel by author and columnist Owen Jones, who has urged him to donate damages to a foodbank in Mansfield - Bradley’s constituency.
A Labour source told HuffPost UK: “Foodbank in Mansfield a very popular choice, certainly in the running.”
Downing Street seized on Corbyn's video - which aides said included a warning that he wanted new media regulation - as proof that he was "shooting the messenger" instead of answering legitimate questions.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "As the PM said in her speech on public life recently, a free press is one of the foundations on which our democracy rests.
"It performs a vital role in holding to account the rich, the powerful and those who seek or hold high office in this country and that should never change.
"Shining a light into dark corners and asking awkward, uncomfortable questions is the press's job.
"It's the job of elected politicians to provide answers, not complain or seek to shoot the messenger because they have been subjected to legitimate scrutiny."
But a spokesman for Corbyn rejected the Downing Street claims.
"These allegations are so transparently absurd and ridiculous and contradictory that anyone assessing the evidence in a sensible and even-handed way would realise that to be the case," he said.
"We're interested in opening up the media and the press, not closing it down. A free press is absolutely vital to a democracy and that has nothing to do with shooting the messenger."
The full text of the legal letter to Bradley reads as follows:
Dear Mr Bradley
OUR CLIENT: RT HON JEREMY CORBYN MP
We act for the Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP.
This is a Letter of Claim for the purposes of the Pre-action Protocol for Defamation. The prospective Claimant is our client, the Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP. The prospective Defendant is you, Mr Ben Bradley MP.
Yesterday, 19 February 2018, you published the following tweet on your Twitter account, Ben Bradley MP (@bbradleymp):
“Corbyn sold British secrets to communist spies...get some perspective mate!! Your priorities are a bit awry! # AreYouSerious”
Your statement that our client sold British secrets to communist spies is untrue. The inference that our client, whom you know to be the Leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition and the Leader of the Labour Party, had engaged in criminal acts of treachery and spying could not be more seriously harmful of a British citizen, let alone such a prominent politician. As the vice-chairman of the Conservative Party you are fully aware of the serious harm that was caused or was likely to be caused to our client’s reputation by your defamatory statement.
The natural and ordinary meaning of your words is that our client engaged in criminal activity at the most serious level. For example, espionage and serious breaches of the Official Secrets Act 1911; that he acted in a manner which was/is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the United Kingdom; that he colluded with representatives of the secret services of foreign states to the detriment of the national interests of the United Kingdom, putting its citizens and its allies at serious risk of harm by passing confidential secret information to foreign agents/intelligence officers. Furthermore the natural and ordinary meaning of your words is that our client made financial gain for such criminal acts and espionage.
Our client’s reputation has been or is likely to be seriously harmed by your publication of the offending tweet and by re-tweets. Furthermore, your tweet has been quoted in full in the Guardian newspaper, the Mirror newspaper, the Huffington Post, Sky News, the Mail Online and has been paraphrased in other national print newspapers, and online, which is unsurprising given your own high profile within the Conservative Party and your status as an MP.
Our client instructed us yesterday evening and we advised his office to put out an immediate statement notifying you and others of the fact that he had taken legal advice and that the tweet should be deleted from your Twitter account. We note that you have removed the tweet but nevertheless serious harm has been caused by your libellous statement.
Our client requires you to immediately agree to take the following steps:
1. Provide a written undertaking, in terms to be agreed with us, that you will not repeat the defamatory statement identified above in your offending tweet or utter or publish any allegations/statements to similar effect about our client on Twitter or on any other social media platform or in any other form both written and oral.
2. Immediately agree to publish on your Twitter account an apology, in terms to be agreed with us, and with the additional statement that you will ask your followers to retweet your apology.
3. Agree to pay a sum of money direct to a charity of our client’s choice, in lieu of damages payable to our client for the injury you have caused to his reputation and also for the embarrassment and distress caused to him by your defamatory statement. We invite your proposals by return with regard to the amount that you will pay which we would expect to be substantial, as our client’s attitude towards the level of payment will take into account the speed with which you make sensible proposals or not. Our client does not seek any personal financial benefit from this litigation and if you force him to issue proceedings and recover substantial damages through the courts he will donate the damages to a charity of his choice.
4. Pay our client’s legal costs incurred in relation to this matter. If you delay the resolution of this case our client will commence legal proceedings against you in the High Court and our client will seek from you not only his basic legal costs but also a success fee (as our client has agreed a Conditional Fee Agreement which provides for a success fee) and payment of an after the event insurance premium. If proceedings are commenced legal costs payable by you will increase significantly, especially if the matter proceeds to a full trial. Your swift agreement to the matters set out in the numbered paragraphs above will assist you in limiting your exposure to our client’s legal costs. Any failure by you to respond swiftly will undoubtedly mean that our client’s legal costs will increase significantly.
We look forward to your immediate and positive response. If there is any delay our client reserves the right to commence legal proceedings against you for damages and ancillary relief for defamation without further notice. In that event, our client will rely on the terms of this letter and the lack of an adequate response, by drawing your conduct to the attention of the Court.
Please indicate if you intend to nominate solicitors to accept service of proceedings on your behalf, should you seek to defend this claim.