The Labour Files documentary is a report on the content of leaked Labour Party files, acquired by Al Jazeera, revealing “a criminal conspiracy against its members”.. “the wholesale hacking of the press”… “a hierarchy of racism.. under Starmer’s leadership” and the physical surveillance of members and their families, including children. In episode 4, Al Jazeera reports on how British democracy is being undermined by “spying and dirty tricks”…
In early 2021, Steven Downes, Editor of ‘Inside Croydon‘, an online news site that reports on poor governance by Labour Cllrs inside Croydon Council (the borough went bankrupt in 2020), found that he had been locked out of his email account. He tried to post a notification on Twitter to the papers thousands of followers, only to find that somebody had also hacked their Twitter account and posted a tweet claiming that Cllr’s Stephen Mann, Robert Canning and Andrew Pelling had been acting as sources for the paper (all three had been critical of the Labour leadership of Croydon Council). Croydon’s leadership back Keir Starmer and did not appreciate the negative reporting. Pelling, tells Al Jazeera that the council spent more time discussing the Inside Croydon website than they did discussing the finances of Croydon Council. Steven Downes tells us that the Labour leadership of the council had previously passed a motion banning all Labour cllrs from talking to the paper.
Shortly after the hack, Ruth Bannister, a Croydon Labour activist, sent an email to local Labour politicians as well as a number of council members and attached a ‘dossier’ of hacked content from the ‘Inside Croydon’ accounts. It contained hundreds of emails lifted from Downes’ personal email. It’s unclear if Bannister is the hacker or if she had acquired the file.
One of the people copied into Bannister’s email is Cllr Clive Fraser (Chief Whip, Croydon Labour Group). Fraser then emails Cllr Pelling to let him know that he has possession of 6 of his private emails, showing that Pelling had been talking to the Inside Croydon newspaper. Pelling informs Fraser that the matter had already been referred to the police and that it would be inappropriate of him to discuss anything with him while they were under police investigation.
- Fraser contacts Labour’s London regional office for advice on whether or not the emails could be used for disciplinary purposes.
- Regional office reply telling Fraser that he needs to hold fire until they can establish if the emails can be considered admissible evidence
- In another email, regional tells Fraser… “broadly speaking, I think the ‘hacked’ information can be shared, as long as this is being used to inform a disciplinary investigation”
- Ruth Bannister files complaints against the three Labour Cllrs accusing them of “leaking confidential and damaging information from Council and Labour group” and then tells the GLU that while she is “happy to speak about this matter and answer any questions you may have… if possible, I’d like to remain anonymous”
- Fraser starts disciplinary proceedings against Pelling.
Pelling reminds us of the furore when newspapers hacked political figures and thinks it’s surprising that now we have political parties hacking newspapers instead. Pelling believes he was targeted because he supported Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership election.
Mick Gorrill (Former Head of Enforcement, Information Commissioners Office), tells us.. “this is clearly an integrity issue because the thing with data protection, the first principle talks about fairness. Fairness is really important, accountability is very important. We’re talking about a major political party, who do know what the difference is between doing things properly and doing things improperly”
- Bannister emails the dossier to Hamida Ali, the leader of the Labour group at Croydon Council and Steve Reed, who, as well as being a local MP, is also Labour’s Opposition Minister for Justice in Starmer’s shadow cabinet.
- After learning that his hacked emails were being shared around amongst senior local Labour officials, Downes writes to Hamida Ali in an effort to retrieve the situation and limit the damage being done to the reputation of the three cllrs. Ali does not reply.
Al Jazeera notes that the Labour Party also failed to notify Downes that his email account had been hacked.
Mike Gorrill says the party had “a responsibility to tell the journalist that they had come into contact with information that’s been unlawfully obtained from their system… the ethical side is very important. It’s gone to a political party and you would expect that political party to be very careful, knowing that this has been unlawfully obtained”
- Referencing the hacked emails, Fraser also files a complaint against David White (Secretary, Croydon Central, 2014-2018), who also happens to be a Jeremy Corbyn supporter.
White tells Al Jazeera that the allegations being made against him were “totally unfair, totally unsubstantiated.” White had simply commented on content that Downes had already published on his website.
- London regional office forward the complaint about David White to David Evans (Starmer’s General Secretary), after being asked to do so by MP Steve Reed.
Downes describes David White as a loyal and committed Labour party member for practically his entire life… “he believed in doing the right thing and having some real, progressive, socialist policies.” Downes explains that White had been inspired when Corbyn was elected leader of the party and was working actively to encourage other left wing members to progress though the ranks, into positions of authority and put themselves forward to become elected officials.
- David Evans passes the file on David White to the Executive Director of Legal Affairs, Alex Barros-Curtis, who then instigates a more detailed investigation.
David White can’t understand why he should even be the target of an investigation, let alone why the matter had been escalated to David Evans, as well as the Executive Director of Legal Affairs. However, both Downes and White believe that, like many left wing Corbyn supporters, he was just one among a number of people targeted and purged from the party during the witch hunt. White adds.. “they were concerned about any Labour party member who was trying to open up about what was happening in the party – the lack of democracy, the purge of members who were on the left of the party or who in some way don’t fit in with the image that Keir Starmer wants for Labour party members”
- White is then accused of being an anti-Semite and expelled from the party without a hearing.
White believes that disciplinary procedures in the party are being abused… “there’s a complete absence of natural justice.. the whole process stinks.” He also points out that the party is relying on information often acquired through so-called ‘anonymous sources,’ many of whom are from outside the Labour Party.
- Cllr Jerry Fitzpatrick, a former lawyer, replaces Clive Fraser as Chief Whip and immediately raises his concerns with Labour’s Governance and Legal Unit (GLU) about the disciplinary cases involving the three councilors. He is particularly concerned about the original advice that had been given by regional office. He makes it clear.. “there is a public interest in the right of a journalist to protect confidential sources, and the right of an elected representative to put into the public domain matters in which the public may have a legitimate interest.” He also points out that “Croydon has received criticism from auditors and a government team in respect of opaque decision making processes… The decisions have had disastrous consequences for the borough. This makes it politically more difficult for those in the leadership of the Croydon Council Labour Group to say that those who acted to put information in the public domain are wrong-doers.” He also raises a key point, referring to the the dossier… “The evidence at the heart of the investigation is stolen goods”
Downes then tells Al Jazeera of another concerning development. Downes later finds out that some of the people responding to his emails from the ‘Inside Croydon’ email account were being sent automated email responses, from the leader of the Croydon Labour Group, Hamida Ali, notifying them that their email had been blind copied to her and to the Chief Whip, at that time, Cliver Fraser. The hacker had left a bug inside the ‘Inside Croydon’ email account that was automatically generating blind copies and sending them to the Croydon Labour Group.
- Fitzpatrick sends numerous emails to the GLU, FAO Alex Barros-Curtis (Executive Director of Legal Affairs) and David Evans (General Secretary), letting them know about the blind copy hack and asking for advice as to whether or not Cllr Ali and Cllr Fraser are obligated to inform the police. Fitzpatrick did not get a reply to any of his queries.
Al Jazeera reports that the Information Commissioners Office is still investigating the incident.
Andrew Pelling asks, as “there is a party that condones associating itself with hacking of the press.. what are they gonna do when they are in national government? Are they going to condone this kind of behaviour with national newspapers?”
The Labour Party has declined to comment but denies involvement in any criminality or that it is a lawless organisation. It insists that it is a rules based organisation.
Former leader of Croydon Labour Group, Cllr Hamida Ali, responded to say that when she became aware of the hack she sought advice from a number of Labour Party sources, as well as from the ICO and has acted consistently on the advice that she has received.
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