Len McCluskey’s Unite union is still contesting the bulk of £2 million in costs it was ordered to pay after losing a libel case against a former Labour MP who was outspoken in her criticism of Jeremy Corbyn’s antisemitism failures.
The former MP Anna Turley was awarded £75,000 in damages by a High Court judge in December 2019 after suing Unite for libel over an article that claimed she acted dishonestly while applying to become a member of the union.
The judge also ruled that Unite and a blogger Stephen Walker – who edits the hard-left Skwawkbox site – were jointly liable for costs. But Jewish News understands that Unite has failed to pay the majority of more than £2 million in costs.
It has also failed to repay a further £3,028 owed which was paid to the High Court by Turley when she issued her claim in January 2018. One legal source described the union’s failure to pay the court fee after such a lengthy time as “beyond belief”. A judge will assess Turley’s costs, which could rise to about £2.5 million, at a High Court hearing on 13 May.
Turley said during the 2019 election campaign that local voters repeatedly expressed outrage to her about Corbyn’s failure to stamp down on antisemites in his party. She had taken Unite and Walker to court over a story on the blog.
The case related to Turley’s application to join Unite, which is Labour’s biggest donor, in December 2016. An article appeared on Skwawkbox in April 2017 claiming that Turley had broken the rules by joining Unite’s community section, which was supposed to be exclusively for unwaged members, and that she had made a false declaration to do so.
Turley told the court that 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. I believed I was entitled to join it,” she told the judge.
After the court ruled in her favour, Turley said she was “thrilled and relieved” to win.
“I am very pleased with today’s verdict, and to be able to say that I have won my libel action against Unite the Union and Skwawkbox,” she said. “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.”
McCluskey is to retire as general secretary, with a leader to be elected in August.
He has faced criticism, mainly from leadership challenger Gerald Coyne, of his decision to spend money on costly legal cases, mainly involving members accused of antisemitism under the previous leader.
Jewish News has approached Unite and Turley for comment.
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