The chair of the Forde Inquiry looking into the ‘Labour leaks’ report has announced that its conclusion is now delayed indefinitely as it has “recently been made aware” that the Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating the same leaks.
Labour’s general secretary David Evans read out a letter from Martin Forde QC to the national executive committee (NEC) at the ongoing meeting today. It said the inquiry’s findings could have the potential to prejudice the ICO’s work.
Forde, who was appointed by the NEC to head the independent probe, told the party that the Forde Inquiry report would only be released once the ICO inquiries are “completed” and “resolved” in order to avoid affecting them.
The Forde Inquiry was tasked with looking into an internal report, leaked online last year, on Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints. It was written by party staff amid the Equality and Human Rights Commission probe into Labour antisemitism.
The report in question, dated March 2020, concluded that cases were poorly handled by the party but antisemitism complaints were not treated differently. It also said the process improved under general secretary Jennie Formby.
As the unredacted report was distributed online in April 2020, the party has been subject to legal action by people named in it – including ex-party staffers, who were suspended from Labour due to the messages contained in the report.
Labour set up an internal investigation at the time to look into potential security breaches and made a disclosure to the ICO. The Forde Inquiry says it has only now learnt that the ICO is investigating the potential breaches as a result.
The Forde Inquiry was originally set to conclude in mid-July, but this timescale was described by Forde as “impractical”. It then aimed to deliver the report “by the end of 2020”, which was later changed to “early in 2021”.
Forde made a point in his letter today of addressing concerns by some Labour members about the delays. He described the comments as “ill-informed speculation” and said the inquiry had been “fully occupied” with its work.
“Any suggestion that I, or my panel, have been subject to pressure from the party regarding the delivery, content and conclusions of our report is entirely refuted. In fact, the party and its officers have not sought to influence its content in any way,” he wrote.
Labour sources say none in the party have seen the inquiry’s findings. Some activists on the left have raised questions over why the ICO prejudice issue has only now been considered, however. The Inquiry is not commenting further.
Responding to a request for comment about the Forde Inquiry announcement, an ICO spokesperson told LabourList: “The Labour Party made us aware of an incident involving its report and we are making enquiries.”
Labour’s national executive committee appointed a four-person panel in May last year to investigate the leaked report. Forde was supported by three Labour peers: Baroness Debbie Wilcox, Lord Larry Whitty and Baroness Ruth Lister.
The party’s ruling body decided that the scope of the inquiry would cover: the allegations contained in the report; its commissioning and how it was put into the public domain; the structure, culture and practices of the party.
Submissions of evidence to the inquiry closed on August 7th. Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and other former shadow ministers sent in a submission supporting the report’s accusation that staffers sabotaged the 2017 election campaign.
The formal submission sent to the inquiry by ex-staffers, seen by The Guardian, said the messages in the report were used selectively and edited to give a false impression. They called on the inquiry to be abandoned.
Some of the ex-officials have been or are being readmitted to the party. Their disciplinary cases were concluded at the end of January, when they were found to have broken party rules and were suspended for several months as a result.
The EHRC report published in October, which prompted the internal Labour report, found the party responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination. Labour has since developed an action plan to improve its handling of antisemitism cases.
Below is the full text of Martin Forde QC’s letter to David Evans.
As you are aware, following the leak on 9 April 2020 of the report entitled “The Work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014-2019″, the Party quite properly informed the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) of potential significant security breaches.
As you can see from the annexed document, the Panel have been working extremely hard to deliver our report in the early part of this year. We have recently been made aware, however, that as a result of those potential breaches, the ICO has indicated it is making inquiries, pursuant to its statutory duties. Having regard to the possible direction and outcome of those inquiries, we are therefore concerned that the publication of our report could prejudice those inquiries and our ability ultimately to deliver our final report to the NEC.
We have considered whether any aspect of our report can be disclosed despite the existence of the ICO’s inquiries. However, after careful consideration, we consider there is a real risk that even partial disclosure of our report and findings could have the potential to prejudice the ICO’s work. As soon as its inquiries are completed, and resolved, we will provide a report.
Finally, we have noted much ill-informed speculation as to the perceived delays in the delivery of our report. As the annexed document shows, we have been fully occupied interviewing witnesses, reviewing a large number of documents and considering over 1,000 submissions from Party members and affiliates.
Any suggestion that I, or my Panel, have been subject to pressure from the Party regarding the delivery, content and conclusions of our report is entirely refuted. In fact, the Party and its officers have not sought to influence its content in any way.
Martin Forde QC
The Forde Inquiry