One of Jeremy Corbyn’s top advisers moved to torpedo the suspension of a Labour member who was arrested last week on suspicion of inciting racial hatred against Jews.
Patricia Sheerin, 72, from south London, was one of three party members questioned by Scotland Yard earlier this month for “publishing or distributing material likely to stir up racial hatred”, the Sunday Times reported.
Sheerin was due to be suspended a year ago after party officials discovered allegedly antisemitic posts that a complainant linked to her, one of which linked Israel to the Islamic State. Another online post claimed that Jewish groups were behind the Ukrainian revolution.
However, a series of leaked emails revealed that Laura Murray, who works in Corbyn’s office, overruled a recommendation by party officials that Sheerin be suspended.
Murray dismissed the proposed ban after it was pointed out to her that Sheerin had already received a warning over past misconduct unrelated to the topic of antisemitism. Murray reportedly asked for evidence from the report.
Murray then concluded: “LOTO [Leader of the Opposition] recommendations are that… you investigate but without suspension, as although her tweets are drawing upon conspiracy theories, they are about Israel and no mention of Jews or Jewishness etc.”
Included in the email exchange were Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s communications director, Karie Murphy, his gatekeeper, and Jennie Formby, Labour’s general secretary.
Also included was Andrew Murray Corbyn’s political adviser – and Laura’s father – who wrote: “These recommendations have been endorsed by Jennie Formby.”
Sheerin remained a party member until later being suspended and then resining over a different issue.
The email exchange reveals the levels of frustration in Labour at the leadership’s attitude towards Jewhate complaints.
Emilie Oldknow, the party’s then executive director, pleaded with Corbyn’s staff to decide on Sheerin’s case for more than two weeks up to 26 March 2018.
“Please can we get a response to the below” and “The next thing will be people saying we are soft on anti-semitism or not acting,” she wrote. A day later she added: “Please can I get an agreement for these suspensions. Pleeeeeeeease[sic].”
A Labour spokesman said: “Party staff in the leader’s office did not attempt to intervene in any cases and did not overrule suspension. They gave their suggestions when asked, which was to suspend in every other case, and when Jennie Formby became general secretary she stopped this advice being sought.
“The material that was sent to the leader’s office is different from the material that went to NEC in July, and different from the material that may have been reviewed by the police.
“There is therefore no comparison to be drawn between these emails and later action taken by the party and possibly the police against this individual, which was on the basis of more serious material.”