Forde Report Summary (Pt3): The chronology of the commissioning, drafting and leaking of the report.
The leaked report was initially a dossier compiled for the EHRC investigation into Labour anti-Semitism. According to Forde, staff members compiling the report aimed to counter the assertion that delays in progressing anti-Semitism cases were as a result of interference by Corbyn or his staff in the leaders office. Forde states that the authors of the leaked report believed that it was senior staff at the Governance and Legal Unit (GLU), engaged in factional in-fighting rather than working on disciplinary work, who were behind the delays. The authors then discovered a “A tranche of WhatApp messages from senior HQ staff” on the party’s computer systems that clearly supported their thesis. However, Forde adds that he does not believe that the authors were aiming to “play down or obscure the scale of anti-Semitism” in the party.
Forde then states that he is satisfied that staff compiling the report did not set out to circumvent data protection regulations but were in fact just young, inexperienced and under-trained. Additionally, he notes that they were working with “seemingly very little supervision, from more senior staff” and nobody, not the authors or their managers, sought guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
As the deadline for submissions to the EHRC loomed, it became apparent that there wouldn’t be enough time for senior staff to review the report. Consequently, Labour’s external legal team advised against submitted the report to the EHRC. Senior staff did, however, instruct the authors to continue compiling the report, as they believed it would still be useful for internal purposes. By the 29th March the report had expanded to 851 pages and the final version came to 860 pages. Two weeks later, on the 12th April, Sky News published the full 860 page version. The 851 page version also appeared on social media at the same time. The party then notified the ICO and started an internal investigation into the unauthorized release of the report. Forde states that they have been unable to identify the source of the leak.
The party wanted the Forde inquiry to look at “The background and circumstances in which the [leaked] report was commissioned, written and circulated within the Labour Party, with it’s advisers and any other individuals external to the Labour Party, including the question of the purpose for which the report was commissioned and prepared, and the circumstances in which the report was put into the public domain,” but in Forde’s view, these questions were just “preliminary to the key focus of this inquiry.” The Forde report would be able to look at the background and circumstances in which the [leaked] report was commissioned and written, as well as ‘why’ it was commissioned and prepared but the inquiry would focus on establishing whether or not the main allegation in the leaked report were true and whether the act of leaking the report denoted a “deeper cultural malaise.” They would also look at whether anything could be done to remedy any issues they find. Forde notes that the Labour Party has also authorized a digital forensic analysis and a HR investigation into the leak and that, along with the ICO investigation, this should address questions around how and why the report was leaked anyway.
Chronology of Events
March 2019: EHRC has meetings with Labour Party officials including the General Secretary, the Executive Director of Legal Affairs and the Data Protection Officer.
May 2019: EHRC launches investigation into whether the Labour Party breached its duties over its handling of anti-Semitism allegations under the Equality Act 2010 and issues Requests for Further Information (RFIs) on policies & procedure and on 58 specific disciplinary cases. Forde notes, the party offered information on an additional 12 cases as well. A team within the GLU, reporting to the General Secretary and overseen, initially, by the Executive Director of Legal Affairs and then by the Acting Director of the GLU, started working on gathering information and formulating a response to the EHRC. Forde notes that there was no central reporting system for disciplinary cases so the team had to conduct searches of the party’s computer system to find documentation and to try and create chronologies for each case. “Appropriate considerations were given to the lawful basis for the processing of data”, according to the party’s data protection team. As GLU staff had an inconsistent approach to saving case documentation, made worse by a high staff turnover, the team had to switch to using Subject Access Requests (SARs) instead, which also gave them access to staff emails and any documents saved on party devices and drives. Forde states that, unfortunately, the team undertaking the search were not advised about “the relevant lawful basis/bases for processing personal data, or the limitations which that might place on the scope of the searches.” He further adds that it’s unclear if the team followed “the correct procedure governing the authorization of the use of the SARs tool” but certainly the team believed they had been given sufficient authorization and what is clear is that they did a detailed search for each case in order “to ensure that everything relevant was captured” and then reported their findings to senior staff as they went along.
Sept 2019: By now, the team had established, through their investigations, that “delays in progressing cases were caused by serious deficiencies in the GLU, rather than [as a result of] LOTO [Leader of the Opposition] interventions.” Although the broader work continued, this information was passed on to senior staff and to an external legal counsel advising on Labour’s response to the EHRC. A skeleton document, entitled “EHRC Narrative” was taking shape.
Oct 2019: Boris Johnson announces there will be a general election and everyone shift focus to campaigning.
Jan 2020: Work resumes on the report and the EHRC agrees a deadline of 24th Feb 2020 for the final submission. In the meantime, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) published a redacted version of their submissions to the EHRC, which was highly critical of the party’s handling of anti-Semitism cases and alleged that there had been interference from LOTO, which appeared to simply echo earlier allegations by certain GLU staff interviewed by the BBC’s Panorama programme… “Is Labour Anti-Semitic.” In a way, the JLM submission and later RFIs from the EHRC then informed the team working on Labour’s report as to what the EHRC might be focusing on. Later that same month, the team became aware of another document that was expected to be submitted to the EHRC and the NEC, by the former GLU staff interviewed by the Panorama programme. This document was meant to be an evidence based rebuttal to the claims in the Labour Party report and was passed on to the Acting Head of the GLU and the General Secretary. On 27th January, the Acting Head of the GLU and the General Secretary had a conference with the legal counsel team and it was agreed that a witness statement would be drafted, by the legal team, to respond to further RFIs from the EHRC. This statement would either incorporate the evidence collated by the team or the evidence would be appended to the witness statement. According to Forde, “this was the point at which the material started to come together into a separate report”
Feb 2020: There was still some concern over the lack of coordination between the work the team were doing and the work being undertaken by the legal counsel and it also didn’t follow the comms plan that was produced to frame the EHRC response as a public facing document. The matter was discussed with the General Secretary and a decision was taken to produce “a wider narrative/account” with a comms response. However, the legal counsel then expressed concern that the narrative document was getting too lengthy and could result in the party missing the EHRC deadline for submissions. Forde sees this as a “disconnect between the approach being taken by the internal team and that of the external legal team”. Additionally, LOTO’s Chief of Staff stepped in to ensure that the EHRC deadlines were being met. She had also been asked by the EHRC to provide a personal submission (independent of the Labour report). At this point a WhatsApp group was set up that included core members of the team working on the response to the EHRC, as well as some senior staff at the LOTO office. Also in February, the EHRC agreed to extend the deadline from 24th February to 2nd March 2020 and on the 18th Feb, the Acting head of the GLU was removed as the instructing solicitor to the EHRC response. The Head of Complaints took over as the ‘lead’ on the EHRC response instead. The party had also appointed a firm of solicitors to take over as legal counsel by 25th Feb. Forde speculates that being completely removed from the work on the EHRC report could have upset the Acting Head of the GLU. He also believes that the young and inexperienced team working on the report were then effectively left without proper supervision and had no clear instructions on who they needed to report to. The research that the team were doing allowed them to pull information from the party’s internal messaging system which is how they then discovered that a significant number of HQ staff were acting in opposition to LOTO, and deduced that this could explain “the delays & dysfunctions in the disciplinary system”
Mar 2020: EHRC extends the submission deadline to 18th March. Junior staff continued to work on the report up until 17th March but they were working out of Unite offices because there was some concern over the sensitivity of the document and it was decided that the party’s Southside HQ was too crowded and “leak prone.” However, Forde is clear that there is no evidence that the report or any of the supporting material was ever transferred to Unite systems during this time. Staff were, however, using Google Docs, which is common practice amongst Labour staff, even though it’s against party policy. On the 14th March, one of the team discovered the SMT WhatsApp transcripts. It turns out another member of staff had requested the transcripts from WhatsApp back in 2017, shortly before leaving the party, but the transcripts were sent to the Labour Party, in error, rather than directly to the person making the request. The WhatsApp transcripts had been loaded onto the party’s systems at the time and so became accessible using the SAR tool. To the authors of the report, the transcripts showed that the delays dealing with anti-Semitism cases were as a result of GLU staff engaging in factional battles and deliberately dragging their heels in order to make it look bad for LOTO. Forde concludes that the report became a lot more “sensational” after extracts from the WhatsApp messages had been incorporated because they “detailed inappropriate attitudes amongst very senior staff and possibly the misallocation of resources on a factional basis during the 2017 general election.” Forde largely agrees with the conclusion that the junior staff had come to, which was that the “narrative” that evolved, with the inclusion of the transcript material, was correct. The report did not suggest that there wasn’t a problem with anti-Semitism in the party or in wider society and it rejected the idea that it was ‘all’ smears or part of a witch hunt. The Forde report further concludes that the primary author of the original leaked report did not belong to either of the two factions and so had not set out to create a “preconceived narrative.” However, as the evidence came to light, there does seem to have been a degree of “confirmation bias.” In other words, extracts from the WhatsApp transcript were selected “because they supported the narrative.” Forde also points out that the people behind the WhatsApp messages were not afforded the right of reply and so concludes that the leaked report was “heavily one-sided.” The head of the complaints team sent various drafts of the leaked report to the General Secretary and the external legal counsel shortly before the EHRC submission deadline. Forde believes they may have used Dropbox to transfer files and that sections of the leaked report were also shared to an EHRC WhatsApp group. According to Forde, neither the General Secretary nor the Head of Complaints had realized that the team had been working on a lengthy report until this point, which he believes suggests a “lack of structural supervision.” On the 16th March, the General Secretary received a complaint from the Acting Head of the GLU, saying that he hadn’t received completed sections or drafts of the leaked report. On the 19th March, the legal counsel advised that it may not be advisable to submit the report to the EHRC but the General Secretary felt that the evidence it contained was “crucial in demonstrating that the basis of the allegations is a motivation to attack the political leadership of the party and the left in general.” The EHRC then extended the deadline to 23rd March. The Head of Complaints emailed a 460 page draft report to the General Secretary and the external legal counsel on 21st March and the General Secretary proposed some revisions around criticism of the Acting Head of the GLU and some unduly negative sections about failings in the party’s disciplinary operations, following her appointment and the Head of Complaints agreed to incorporate these changes. However, on the 22nd March, the legal team advised against submitting the report to the EHRC so the decision was then taken to submit the General Secretary’s witness statement on its own. The General Secretary did, however, instruct the team to continue work on the report as she felt that it would prove to be a useful source in case there were any internal disciplinary proceedings against party employees and it could potentially also be useful in assisting “the Party’s defence to the defamation proceedings arising from LOTO’s response to the BBC Panorama programme [Is Labour anti-Semitic?]”
April 2020: In early April, a number of summaries of the report were produced. They included some extracts from the WhatsApp transcripts along with some commentary. Forde notes that the stated purpose of at least one of these summaries was to support disciplinary proceedings against certain members of the WhatsApp group. However, Forde speculates that they could also have been used as media briefings. Two additional documents were also produced summarising key points and proposed “hooks.” These documents included evidence that LOTO were keen to progress anti-Semitism cases and showed that GLU staff were causing delays. They also included WhatsApp messages and other evidence of factionalism inside Party HQ. It’s unclear why these documents were produced but Forde thinks that they were “intended to form part of a selective and controlled media release.” On the 12th April, Sky News published an article on the report and includes the 860 page version of the full report. Another 851 page version then started doing the rounds on social media. The party alerted the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) who then instigated an investigation into the leak. The ICO investigation is ongoing.
The primary purpose of the The Forde Report Summary is to make the Forde report more accessible to a wider audience We’ll also be scrutinising some of it’s findings, where appropriate to do so. Spotlight will be publishing the summary report in sections over the coming days and you can find links to earlier published sections below…
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