Ex-Labour MP who won libel battle with union says she had to defend reputation

A former Labour MP awarded £75,000 damages by a judge after winning a libel battle with a union and a blogger has said she had to defend her reputation.

Anna Turley – who lost her seat in Redcar, North Yorkshire, in the General Election on December 12 – sued Unite and blogger Stephen Walker.

Ms Turley said a 2017 article on Mr Walker’s Skwawkbox blog, which contained a press statement from Unite, libelled her by conveying the meaning that she had acted dishonestly when submitting an application to join the union.

She also said Unite had misused her private information.

Anna Turley
Anna Turley (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Unite bosses and Mr Walker fought the case and said Ms Turley had been dishonest and was not fit to be an MP.

They said the article was true or justified in the public interest.

Mr Justice Nicklin, who oversaw a High Court trial in London in November, ruled in Ms Turley’s favour on Thursday.

The judge concluded that publication of the article caused “serious harm” to Ms Turley’s reputation, and rejected allegations that Ms Turley had been dishonest.

After the ruling, Ms Turley said that launching the action had given her no pleasure, but she no choice.

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. My full statement: pic.twitter.com/6bB3jPbBrN

— Anna Turley (@annaturley) December 19, 2019

Lawyers representing Unite bosses and Mr Walker said they aimed to appeal.

The article related to a Unite membership application Ms Turley made in December 2016.

Mr Justice Nicklin heard that Ms Turley had applied to be a Unite member under a Community membership category. The Community section was aimed at people not in paid employment and cost 50p a week.

A barrister representing Unite said Ms Turley had been willing to “conceal, mislead and deceive”.

Anthony Hudson QC said she wanted to vote against Unite general secretary Len McCluskey in an election without being noticed and without the union knowing she was an MP.

Ms Turley said the Skwawkbox article made “false and defamatory” allegations about her and impugned her honesty.

“I am very pleased with today’s verdict,” 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.”

A Unite spokeswoman said Unite bosses were “very disappointed” with the decision.

Lawyers representing Ms Turley told the judge, after he delivered his verdict, that she would collect more than £80,000 in total.

They said Ms Turley had offered to settle for £25,000 but her offer had been rejected.

As a result of that, Unite and Mr Walker had agreed to add £7,500 – 10% – to the damages award.

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