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Ex-Labour MP awarded £75,000 damages in libel battle

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

Former Labour MP Anna Turley has won a High Court libel fight (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Former Labour MP Anna Turley has won a High Court libel fight (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

By Brian Farmer, PA

A former Labour MP who sued a union for libel has won a High Court fight and been awarded £75,000 damages.

Anna Turley – who lost her seat in Redcar, North Yorkshire, in the General Election on December 12 – had sued Unite and blogger Stephen Walker.

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

Ms Turley said a 2017 article on Mr 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.

I am not dishonest and have not lied or sought to mislead Anna Turley

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

They said the article was true or justified in the public interest.

Mr Justice Nicklin found Unite and Mr Walker liable.

A Unite spokeswoman said Unite bosses were “very disappointed” with the decision.

Lawyers said the union and Mr Walker wanted to appeal.

Ms Turley had wanted more than £100,000.

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

Mr Justice Nicklin heard how Ms 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 Ms Turley had been willing to “conceal, mislead and deceive”.

Anthony Hudson QC said Ms 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.

Ms 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 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. My reputation for honesty and integrity are of the utmost importance to me. They go to the root of who I am and why I am in public service.”

Ms Turley had links to a WhatsApp group of Labour MPs, known as the Birthday Club, who were opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the judge heard.

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

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

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.

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

PA

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