By Rianna Croxford
Correspondent, BBC News Investigations

Five former Labour staff accused of leaking a report on anti-Semitism within the party say at least another 12 people, including ex-leader Jeremy Corbyn, had access to copies of it.

The 2020 report was damning of Labour, but said Mr Corbyn had been hindered by opponents in trying to make reforms.

The current leadership says the five ex-staff, all Corbyn supporters, leaked it in an effort to “ensure his legacy”.

But they all deny doing so.

It comes as the five have become embroiled in legal action over the leak, which has already cost Labour £1m to investigate, according to High Court documents seen by the BBC.

A Labour spokesperson said: “The party conducted a wide-ranging and appropriately thorough investigation following the leak, and is confident of the case it has presented to the court.”

Accusations of anti-Semitism within Labour were widespread during Mr Corbyn’s tenure as leader, which lasted from 2015 to 2020.

In April 2020, as he was standing down, a party report was leaked that claimed internal hostility towards Mr Corbyn among senior party officials had led to a “litany of mistakes” that had hindered the handling of anti-Semitism allegations.

The report had contained private WhatsApp messages sent between Labour staff who were critical of Mr Corbyn and included derogatory remarks about his supporters.

Some of those named in the report are currently taking collective legal action against the party claiming a data protection breach.

Image caption,

Sir Keir became Labour leader after Jeremy Corbyn

As part of its defence, the current Labour leadership, under Sir Keir Starmer, has alleged that five ex-staff – all of whom were strong supporters of Mr Corbyn – leaked the report.

  • Former chief of staff Karie Murphy
  • Former communications director Seumas Milne
  • Former press officer Georgie Robertson
  • Former governance officer Harry Hayball
  • Former head of complaints Laura Murray

But, in High Court documents seen by the BBC, the five claim that Mr Corbyn and at least a dozen other Labour staff had copies of the report – including via a shared drive – and similar opportunities to leak it.

In its own legal claims, Labour says Ms Murphy, prior to the leak, had created a WhatsApp group to coordinate work about the report and Mr Hayball had used it to circulate drafts.

Ms Robertson had later sent a copy of the report via Gmail to Ms Murphy’s personal email account for “no legitimate reason”, it adds.

By the time Labour started investigating, it says, all copies of the WhatsApp group had been deleted and Ms Murray and Ms Robertson had erased their internet search histories.

But, in their legal defence, the five say Mr Corbyn and Labour’s then general secretary, Jennie Formby, had also received the report via WhatsApp.

Mr Milne also sent copies of the report to two of Mr Corbyn’s personal email addresses at his own request, the document says.

‘Prone to leakage’

The five ex-staff claim officials regularly instructed aides to clear their WhatsApp chats and that personal emails were often used, as Labour’s system was “prone to unauthorised leakage”.

Ms Robertson and Ms Murray said they had erased their browsing histories to protect their privacy and prevent the party from accessing personal information such as online banking and social media accounts.

Despite such extensive trawls of evidence, including having what appears to be unauthorised access to their personal email accounts, the party has not found direct evidence of any unlawful action, their defence adds.

Image source, PA Media

Image caption,

Seumas Milne (right) is among the ex-Labour staff accused of leaking the report

Months before the report’s release, Labour says, Ms Robertson devised a communications plan and briefing materials, supported by Mr Milne, that suggested leaking it to the media.

The party claims this was motivated by factional hostility with the “intention of disrupting or embarrassing” Sir Keir, who replaced Mr Corbyn as Labour leader in April 2020.

But Ms Robertson says media briefings were a routine part of her role and this “rough” communications plan had been shared with her line manager and other senior officials.

The five deny claims of party in-fighting and highlight that Sir Keir had served in Mr Corbyn’s shadow cabinet and campaigned twice for him to be elected.

Moreover, there was no criticism of Sir Keir in the leaked report, as he had played no role in the handling of anti-Semitism complaints, they add.

Compensation claim

Labour has spent £1m on dealing with the fallout of the leak and is facing significant financial strain, according to the High Court documents.

The party is seeking compensation from the five ex-staff to cover its growing legal costs and wants them to be held liable to pay damages to those affected by the alleged data breach.

Labour previously launched independent investigations into the leak, but one was found to be inconclusive.

The second inquiry, led by Martin Forde QC, has been indefinitely delayed over concerns it could prejudice an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

All five ex-staffers say they participated in both investigations and neither found them to be responsible.

Labour said the party had conducted a wide-ranging and appropriately thorough investigation following the leak and it was confident of the case it had presented to the court.

Mr Corbyn has been approached for comment.

Follow Rianna on Twitter @The_Crox