Labour candidate ‘not fit to be MP’, libel case told

Former Redcar MP claims union libelled her in 2017 Skwawkbox blog post

Chiara Giordano
Tuesday 12 November 2019 02:31 GMT
File image of Labour candidate Anna Turley, who is contesting the seat for Redcar in the 2019 general election.
File image of Labour candidate Anna Turley, who is contesting the seat for Redcar in the 2019 general election. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

A Labour candidate has been accused of being “dishonest” and “not fit to be an MP” during a High Court libel battle.

Anna Turley, who is contesting the seat for Redcar, in North Yorkshire, claims Unite libelled her in an article published on the left-wing Skwawkbox blog, which related to an application she made for union membership.

Ms Turley – who three years ago made headlines after calling Unite general secretary Len McCluskey an “arsehole” on Twitter – is also suing Stephen Walker, a journalist who writes, edits and publishes Skwawkbox.

She claims the Skwawkbox article conveyed the meaning that she had “acted dishonestly” and also says Unite misused her private information.

Unite and Mr Walker are fighting the case at a High Court trial in London due to last several days.

A lawyer representing Unite told a judge on Monday that Ms Turley’s dishonesty “permeates” the case.

Anthony Hudson QC told Mr Justice Nicklin that Ms Turley had been willing to “conceal, mislead and deceive”.

He added: “Ms Turley had acted dishonestly and behaved dishonestly. Regrettably, she is not fit to be an MP.”

The judge heard that in December 2016, Ms Turley applied to be a Unite member under a Community membership category.

Barrister Kate Wilson, representing Ms Turley, said Unite’s Community section was aimed at people not in paid employment, but her client had not realised she had joined the “wrong section”.

Ms Turley had in March 2017 been contacted by a Unite official and said she would like to transfer to the “appropriate membership”.

Unite’s press office had given Mr Walker a “for publication” statement and the Skwawkbox article appeared in April 2017.

Ms Turley wants damages, although no figure was given to the judge on Monday.

Mr Hudson said Ms Turley would have known that the Community membership section was restricted to people not in paid employment.

He said she wanted to vote against Mr McCluskey without being noticed and without the union knowing she was an MP.

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The barrister added: “In all the circumstances, there were reasonable grounds to suspect that [Ms Turley] chose to apply for Community membership at a concessionary subscription rate knowing that this form of membership was restricted to unwaged persons and that, by applying for it, she submitted an application that she knew was false in this respect, and accordingly acted dishonestly in submitting it.”

Mr Walker denies that the article or the Unite press statement caused “serious harm” to Ms Turley’s reputation, and says the words complained of were “substantially true” and a matter of public interest.

Unite bosses say they did not authorise publication of the article and the union is not liable for its publication.

They deny that the press statement given to Mr Walker was defamatory.

Ms Turley is expected to give evidence on Tuesday.

Additional reporting by Press Association.

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