Anna Turley in libel battle with Unite

The Labour / Co-op candidate for Redcar is suing the union and Skwawkbox editor Stephen Walker

Hearings for Anna Turley’s libel trial against Unite began earlier this week at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

The Labour and Co-operative parliamentary prospective candidate for Redcar, Teesside, is suing the union over a March 2017 article on left-wing blog Skwawkbox. She is also suing Stephen Walker, the journalist who writes, edits and publishes Skwawkbox.

Ms Turley, who was first elected to the seat in 2015 and is also the chair of the Co-operative Party, claims the article, which contained a statement from a Unite spokesperson, libelled her by implying she has acted dishonestly in submitting an application to join the trade union. She also accuses Unite of misusing her private information.

The court heard how in December 2016 Ms Turley had applied to join Unite under its Community membership category, which cost 50p a week.

Ms Turley argues that she wanted to join Unite Community, which she believed to be “a community-based, grass-roots, campaigning political organisation”, and that she believed she was allowed to join. However, the Community section is aimed at people not in paid employment.

Anthony Hudson QC, the barrister representing Unite and Walker, told the court that Ms Turley had been dishonest in submitting the application to join the union and was not fit to be a MP. He added that Ms Turley had joined because she wanted to vote against Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, who was facing an election, without being noticed and without the union knowing she was an MP. He argued her ultimate goal had been to oust Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who benefits from Mr McCluskey’s support.

Giving evidence in court, Ms Turley admitted she had joined in order to vote against Mr McCluskey, but said she thought she was entitled to join under the Community membership category. Her counsel said she had been told by Unite in March 2017 that she should move to become an “industrial” member, and that she had replied days later apologising and asking how she should transfer her membership.

A Unite spokesperson said: “Unite denies allegations from Anna Turley MP that we were co-authors to an article by Skwawkbox alleging that Anna Turley knowingly joined Unite on a membership restricted to those who are not in receipt of a wage.

“Nevertheless, Unite maintains that Anna Turley would have known that as a paid MP she was not eligible to enrol into a membership section of Unite that is restricted to those not in receipt of wages.”

The court heard that Skwawkbox’s Stephen Walker was a member of the Labour Party. Mr Walker claimed that Ms Turley had given “reasonable grounds for suspicion” and that the original story was published with a “clear view to the public interest”.

Ms Turley declined to comment. The hearing continues.

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