A website publisher sued for libel by a Labour candidate has defended a blog article and told a judge he found it “particularly newsworthy”.
Skwawkbox’s Stephen Walker said the conduct of Anna Turley, who was Labour MP for Redcar in North Yorkshire, had given “reasonable grounds for suspicion”.
He told Mr Justice Nicklin at a High Court trial in London that the March 2017 article had been published with a “clear view to the public interest”.
How have your newspaper consumption habits changed during the pandemic/lockdown, and do you think this will last?
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Turley (pictured), who hopes to regain the Redcar seat in the forthcoming snap general election, is suing Walker and the Unite union.
She says the Skwawkbox article, which contained a press statement from Unite, libelled her by conveying the meaning that she had acted dishonestly in submitting an application to join the union.
The 40-year-old also says Unite misused her private information.
The judge has heard that, in December 2016, Turley applied to be a Unite member under a community membership category.
He was told that Unite’s Community section is aimed at people not in paid employment and costs 50p a week.
Lawyers representing Unite and Walker say Turley wanted to vote against Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, and as a result undermine Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, in an election without being noticed and without the union knowing she was an MP.
Turley denies being dishonest and said the Skwawkbox article was “untrue and very upsetting”.
She told the judge that she did want to vote against McCluskey but thought she could join the Unite Community section.
Walker told the judge yesterday in a written witness statement that he had set up the left-wing Skwawkbox website in 2012 to provide information he thought the mainstream media was not providing.
He said he was a Labour Party member and a supporter of McCluskey and Corbyn.
Walker said he published the article, headed “MP ‘joins Unite’s Unwaged section’ for GenSec vote”, on April 7 2017.
A source had told him that a “flood” of new members had joined Unite Community on “the concessionary rate” who were ineligible for membership because they were employed, he said.
Walker said he was given the name of one MP – Turley.
He said it was his decision to publish and that he had not been “procured” by Unite.
“What made it particularly newsworthy, in my view, was the allegation of an MP, amongst others, joining illegitimately on the concessionary rate rather than the correct rate for someone in employment,” he said in his witness statement.
“Her conduct in joining at the concessionary Community rate … gave reasonable grounds for suspicion.”
Walker said the article had been read 3,672 times within a year of publication.
He told the judge there had been a “lack of serious harm” to Turley’s reputation.
Walker told the judge: “I can give you half an hour’s dissertation on why it was in the public interest. It is not difficult to defend.”
Anthony Hudson QC, representing Unite and Walker, told the court Turley had been willing to “conceal, mislead and deceive”.
Unite bosses had made one allegation relating to mail they said had been sent to Turley, claiming she had lied about not receiving it.
Hudson told the judge today he had been instructed to withdraw that allegation.
Mr Justice Nicklin finished hearing evidence today and is due to hear final legal arguments from lawyers representing all sides on Tuesday.
Picture: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Wire