Court denies suspended Brighton Labour member’s bid to unveil identities of his accusers after reading his ‘offensive’ tweets
A controversial Labour party member who was suspended after multiple complaints of anti-Semitic and abusive comments has failed in his bid to be given details of who made the complaints after some of his “offensive” tweets were read out in court.
Jewish anti-Israel campaigner Tony Greenstein rejoined the Labour party in October 2015, shortly after Mr Corbyn became leader – but just months later, in March 2016, he was suspended after the party received a “significant number” of complaints. Mr Greenstein strongly denies any anti-Semitism.
Investigations into his case were completed late last year, but the party’s national constitutional committee has yet to hear his case after he successfully applied for an injunction postponing it until this month because he had been in hospital. It is now scheduled for 18 February.
However, his latest court battle with the party has been unsuccessful after Brighton County Court ruled against his application for unredacted versions of the complaints against him to be released under the Data Protection Act.
Mr Greenstein argued that he had a right to know who his accusers are, as would be the case in any legal or civil law process.
But solicitors acting for Labour’s general secretary Iain McNicol, who Mr Greenstein named as a party in the case, argued that the complainants had contacted the party on an understanding their correspondence would remain confidential.
And District Judge Susan Brown said the party was reasonable in taking into account the offensive tweets and emails he had sent to those he suspects of making some of the many accusations against him – including Brighton councillor Caroline Penn and Brighton Kemptown MP Lloyd Russel-Moyle.
In her ruling, dated January 9, she said: “It is important to say something about the applicant. He is demonstrably intelligent and has engaged in this process in an articulate and detailed way. He is also a highly controversial figure.
“It is the court’s view from seeing him within the court process that he is intense and combative, being highly emotional about the subjects of Israel and Palestine.
“He is someone whom the party rightly or wrongly has suspended, about whom they have received a significant number of complaints and in respect of whom there are ongoing investigations.
“This background informs the decisions as to reasonableness of disclosure which might with the information already known to or ascertainable by the applicant might identify the third parties.
“He is within these proceedings prone to a very strong reaction to persons and submissions made.
“This court deals with a wide variety of litigant. The applicant quickly brands a query as to why a claim form was not issued as being an allegation of fraud which viewed reasonably it was not.
“He alleges that only a ‘fool or a knave’ would interpret one of his comments in the way the respondent submits which is an emotive comment.
“Whilst he claims to be viewed out of context he has within document repeatedly used language which is offensive in any context – ‘racist Zios’, ‘fascist scum’ to give just two small examples.
“I do not underestimate the complexity of the applicant’s views but his views and the strength with which he expresses them is something the respondent is reasonable in taking into account in providing third party information.”
Judge Brown’s ruling about the offensive nature of Mr Greenstein’s tweets could strengthen the case against him when it goes before the NCC.
However, earlier this month the former chair of the committee, Ann Black, was voted out in favour of Christine Shawcroft, who acted as a silent witness for Mr Greenstein during an investigation hearing into the allegations in May 2016.
Mr Greenstein submitted the request, known as a subject access request (SAR) earlier that month, on 13 May 2016, after both the Times and the Telegraph ran articles about his membership and controversial views on April 2. Two days later he received a bundle of heavily censored documents with no explanation for the redactions.
However, the officer who sent that bundle retired shortly after and made no record of his response. The request was subsequently picked up by a second officer who sent another bundle of slightly less redacted documents to Mr Greenstein – but to an old address which meant he did not receive them.
Therefore, for a large part of the court proceedings, both parties were unknowingly referring to different sets of redacted documents. Judge Brown’s ruling mentions that this “fuelled [Mr Greenstein’s] sense that there is some sort of conspiracy against him”, but she accepted that it was a genuine mix-up.
In another blunder, the ruling refers to one complainant’s name and email address being redacted, but their mobile phone number being included – which allowed Mr Greenstein to easily identify them.
The judgement also refers to an email Mr Greenstein sent to Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who was then chair of the Brighton and Hove Labour Party, saying “it is not too difficult to work out the identity of some of those who have written in”. He accused Mr Russell-Moyle, now the Labour MP for Kemptown, of being one of them, adding “you made your decision for reasons of personal political advantage. Of your own volition you decided to add your support to the bogus complaints of ‘abuse’ by Councillors Daniel and Penn.”
Cllr Caroline Penn wrote to the party about the redaction, saying Mr Greenstein, who has dubbed her Poison Penn, had caused her “enormous distress”. She said: “I am now very concerned about my own personal safety and of others that have complained about Mr Greenstein. It was assumed these complaints would be confidential in nature. I am now looking for reassurances that the party will ensure those who complained will be protected and hope you will respond promptly.”
Mr Greenstein expressed interest in “taking legal action against those who have called me anti-Semitic or guilty of fraud if they persist in continuing with their allegations”. Separate to this court case, he has launched a crowdfunder to sue the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism for defamation in relation to two articles they have published accusing him of anti-Semitism.
Countering the evidence of his tweets and emails, Mr Greenstein accused Mr McNicol of selectively choosing “juicy” allegations which were deliberately taken out of context, and argued that social media comments are part and parcel of political debate. He said that responding to a woman who tweeted “shoot me I am a Zionist” with the comment it is tempting should not be taken at face value.
Greenstein also argued that his actions are legitimate because of a “widely held suspicion” that those administering the process are biased and prejudiced.
However, the judge said that despite this contention, in regard to the process before the court there was no evidence that its response was inadequate.
In relation to his argument that he has a right to know the names of his accusers, she said: “The applicant must understand the strong difference between this [SAR] process and the ‘party’ internal processes or indeed other court based process.”