Livingstone suspended for four weeks over Nazi gibe

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Indy Politics

The London Mayor Ken Livingstone has been suspended for four weeks after being found guilty of bringing his office into disrepute by comparing a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard. A disciplinary tribunal said he had been "unnecessarily insensitive and offensive" when approached by a journalist from London's Evening Standard after a party at City Hall last February.

The Mayor, who earns a £138,000 salary, will be suspended on full pay for four weeks starting on 1 March. He will not be permitted to work for the Greater London Authority from its headquarters at City Hall or his Brent home and his duties will be carried out by the deputy mayor, Nicky Gavron. Since he lost the case he must pay his own costs, estimated at £80,000.

"His treatment of the journalist was unnecessarily insensitive and offensive," said David Laverick, chairman of the adjudication panel, which took up the case after it was referred by the Standards Board for England, the local government watchdog. "He persisted with a line of comment likening the journalist's job to a concentration camp guard, despite being told that the journalist was Jewish and found it offensive to be asked if he was a German war criminal."

The Mayor, who was not present, was criticised for becoming "ever more entrenched" after the row, refusing to apologise due to his long-held view of Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard, which he has previously accused of anti-Semitism.

Mr Livingstone issued a statement condemning the ruling. "This decision strikes at the heart of democracy. Elected politicians should only be able to be removed by the voters or for breaking the law. Three members of a body that no one has elected should not be allowed to overturn the votes of millions of Londoners." He signalled that he would decide next week whether to mount a legal challenge.

During the hearing, Mr Livingstone sought to defend himself against charges that he had damaged the reputation of the mayor's office by claiming he was acting in a private capacity on the night of the incident.

The controversy began when Mr Livingstone was approached by a reporter, Oliver Finegold, as he left a party at City Hall on 8 February. Mr Livingstone asked Mr Finegold whether he had been a "German war criminal" and, on hearing that Mr Finegold was Jewish, likened him to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

The story first appeared on another newspaper's website and, after the Mayor refused to apologise, the matter was referred to the tribunal following a complaint by the Jewish Board of Deputies. Earlier this month, a report by the Community Security Trust, which advises Britain's Jews on security, said the comments were to blame for 11 anti-Semitic attacks in London and the South-east last year.

Yesterday Jon Benjamin, of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: "I think the message that one would hope the Mayor would take away from this is that he is not the sole arbiter of standards in public life."

Veronica Wadley, editor of Evening Standard, which employed Mr Livingstone as a restaurant critic for four years, said the ruling exonerated the reporter. She added: "It is only right that the adjudication panel has decided Mr Livingstone acted in a manner that was ill-fitting for the Mayor of this great city. Mr Livingstone should now apologise to those he offended."

It is unlikely that Mr Livingstone will face any further charges as a result of the ruling. Although there is a public order offence of using threatening or abusive language, the six-month period to bring charges in this case has elapsed.

'You're just like a concentration camp guard, doing it because you're paid'

This is a transcript of the taped exchange between Ken Livingstone and Oliver Finegold which led to the Mayor of London being suspended from office yesterday. Mr Livingstone was leaving a reception at City Hall in February last year when approached by the reporter.

Oliver Finegold: "Mr Livingstone, Evening Standard. How did it ..."

Ken Livingstone: "Oh, how awful for you."

OF: "How did tonight go?"

KL: "Have you thought of having treatment?"

OF: "How did tonight go?"

KL: "Have you thought of having treatment?"

OF: "Was it a good party? What does it mean for you?"

KL: "What did you do before? Were you a German war criminal?"

OF: "No, I'm Jewish. I wasn't a German war criminal."

KL: "Ah ... right."

OF: "I'm actually quite offended by that. So, how did tonight go?"

KL: "Well you might be, but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard. You're just doing it 'cause you're paid to, aren't you?"

OF: "Great. I've you on record for that. So how did tonight go?"

KL: "It's nothing to do with you because your paper is a load of scumbags."

OF: "How did tonight go?"

KL: "It's reactionary bigots ..."

OF: "I'm a journalist. I'm doing my job."

KL: "... and who supported fascism."

OF: "I'm only asking for a simple comment. I'm only asking for a comment."

KL: "Well, work for a paper that isn't ..."

OF: "I'm only asking for a comment."

KL: " ... that had a record of supporting fascism."

OF: "You've accused me ..."

After the words "You've accused me" there is a gap on the tape followed after five seconds by a sound indistinguishable other than it being a male voice.