Stan Keable exonerated – an important victory

Stan Keable, who was on a counter-march with Jewish Voice for Labour in 2018. Photograph: Not known

JVL Introduction

Here is the summary of the case, circulated by Stan Keable together with a statement from him (see below).

Three and a half years after his sacking for a comments about Zionism during the ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration in parliament square, Stan Keable welcomes a small victory in the struggle for freedom of speech and assembly: on October 26 2021 the Employment Appeals Tribunal upheld his unfair dismissal judgment [on both procedural and substantive grounds] against Labour-led Hammersmith and Fulham Council and the reinstatement order made in January 2020.

It is preceded by the Guardian report on the case and followed by a press release from Keable’s solicitors and a link to the full EAT judgement


Council worker sacked for comments about Zionism wins back job

Haroon Siddique Legal affairs correspondent, Guardian, 26 October 2021

A self-described anti-Zionist who was sacked from his job of more than 17 years after being filmed arguing with a protester at a rally protesting against antisemitism in the Labour party has won his job back and approximately £70,000 in damages after a judge ruled he was unfairly dismissed.

Stan Keable, a public protection and safety officer at Hammersmith and Fulham council, was videoed having an exchange with a protester who was on the 26 March 2018 Enough is Enough demonstration.

During the discussion, Keable, who was on a counter-march with Jewish Voices for Labour, which was supportive of the then party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said “the Zionist movement collaborated with the Nazis”.

The footage was uploaded to Twitter by the Newsnight journalist David Grossman with the title Anti-Semitism Didn’t Cause the Holocaust and Zionists Collaborated with the Nazis and viewed almost 80,000 times.

Criticism was subsequently levelled at Keable, including from a local Conservative MP, Greg Hands, who identified him as an employee of the Labour council and urged it to take action. After the council leader wrote an email on 27 March calling on officials to act swiftly, Keable was suspended the same day for “offensive” comments and sacked two months later.

The employment tribunal judge heard that the council accepted Keable’s comments were not antisemitic and were a reference to the 1933 Haavara agreement, a deal between Germany and German Zionists to facilitate the emigration of Jews to British-controlled Palestine during a Jewish economic boycott of the Nazi regime.

The council also accepted that Keable, who occupied a non-political position, made the comments in a private capacity outside the workplace and did not publish them himself nor make them in a threatening or abusive manner. Nevertheless, Nicholas Austin, the dismissing officer, concluded they were widely circulated, he had been identified as a council employee, and “a reasonable person” would conclude Keable had said Zionists “colluded [or collaborated] with the Holocaust”.

However, the judge whose ruling at first instance was upheld by the employment appeal tribunal in a judgment handed down on Tuesday, said there was no evidence that this was the way Keable’s comments had been interpreted.

She added: “If it was within the range of reasonable responses of a reasonable employer to dismiss an employee in circumstances where they have lawfully exercised their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, unconnected in any way to the workplace, without using language which was personally abusive, insulting or obscene, and when their views and opinions have, without their consent, been published and caused offence to some, or indeed many people, then there is a very great risk of dismissal to any person who expresses their lawful political views outside the workplace.”

She ordered the council to pay Keable his lost earnings and that he be reinstated to his job – a rare remedy, only used three times in 2016-17 out of 9,039 unfair dismissal claims. The council appealed but a panel at the employment appeal tribunal, led by Judge Katherine Tucker, concluded: “The judge was entitled to conclude that the dismissal was unfair.”

Keable, who was expelled from Labour in 2017 and is secretary of Labour Against the Witchhunt, which was proscribed by the party in July, said: “I want to go back to work. If I’d made offensive remarks at work, we’d be talking a different story. I’m quite willing to accept that some people were offended but that’s not a crime or a sin – it’s a necessary part of free speech.”

Hammersmith and Fulham council said: “As a public body we always expect the highest levels of conduct from our employees. We are therefore disappointed with the judgment.”

The council added that is considering its options with respect to reinstatement. If it refuses to reinstate Keable, it will have to pay him more money.

 


Statement by Stan Keable, Tues Oct 26 2021

Case No: EA-2019-000733-DA (previously UKEAT/0333/19/DA)
EA-2020-000129-DA (previously UKEAT/0134/20/DA)

Three and a half years after his sacking for a comments about Zionism during the ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration in parliament square, Stan Keable welcomes a small victory in the struggle for freedom of speech and assembly: on October 26 2021 the Employment Appeals Tribunal upheld his unfair dismissal judgment against Labour-led Hammersmith and Fulham Council and the reinstatement order made in January 2020.

I was particularly pleased with the reinstatement order, and I am optimistically looking forward to getting back to my permanent post as a private sector housing enforcement officer, visiting tenants in their homes when they need support with repairs. The Council gave evidence that I was good at my job and had a clean disciplinary record. The tribunal noted that I had “maintained good relations with work colleagues”, some of whom gave evidence on my behalf, and confirmed that “reinstatement was practicable” and that “trust and confidence had not been broken and the employment relationship could continue and develop”.

Despite being eventually vindicated, my three and a half years of victimisation and uncertainty about my future has been a very unsettling experience, and is certainly enough to make any worker think twice about exercising their right to publicly express their political views – particularly if they are critical of Israel’s ongoing settler-colonialism, its discrimination against Palestinian Arabs or its racial-supremacist political ideology of Zionism. While some of my work colleagues stepped up and gave evidence on my behalf, others gave me private support but were understandably afraid to speak publicly.

The ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt in the Labour Party had already been going strong for two years, focused on trying to unseat Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn was no anti-Semite, but he was busy appeasing his rightwing Labour and Zionist accusers. Already in October 2017 I had been witch-hunted out of the party – auto-excluded, without due process, for being secretary of Labour Party Marxists. The purpose of the ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration, organised by the Zionist-led, Tory-led, misnamed Board of Deputies of British Jews, was to brand Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as anti-Semitic, despite ample evidence to the contrary – a campaign which, with the full support of the mainstream capitalist media, has been very successful.

I joined the Jewish Voice for Labour counterdemonstration, and was suspended from work the following day, and subsequently dismissed, for my comments about the Zionist movement, made in parliament square. That is what the tribunal judged to be unfair dismissal:

If it was within the range of reasonable responses of a reasonable employer to dismiss an employee in circumstances where they have lawfully exercised their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, unconnected in any way to the workplace, without using language which was personally abusive, insulting or obscene, and when their views and opinions have, without their consent, been published and caused offence to some, or indeed many people, then there is a very great risk of dismissal to any person who expresses their lawful political views outside the workplace.

Seems pretty straightforward to anyone with an eye to workers’ rights, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what I thought when I was handed my suspension letter at 2.15pm the day after the demo, alleging that my comments had “the potential to bring the council into disrepute”. Actually, it was my reputation that was put in jeopardy as both my trade union, Unison, and the council blythely told the press that they “take anti-Semitism seriously” and are “investigating” – thereby implying that I was accused of anti-Jewish racism, a charge which my suspension letter carefully omitted. I immediately asked the dismissing officer a number of questions. Was there a complaint against me? The officer did not answer. What was the identity of the complainant? He did not know. How many complaints were made against me? He did not know. What was the precise wording of the allegation or allegations? I would be informed. What was the precise wording of the allegedly inappropriate comments? I would be informed by the investigating officer.

The identity of the complainant – the Labour leader of the council, Stephen Cowan – and the precise wording of his complaint, were kept secret from me throughout the Council’s disciplinary procedure and its appeal procedure. This crucial information was only revealed to me shortly before the employment tribunal hearing, when my solicitor obtained a copy of Cowan’s email to the chief executive on the morning of March 27. The leader accused me of “making anti-Semitic comments” and saying “I believe he has brought the good name of LBHF into disrepute and committed gross misconduct” – which is code for demanding dismissal. Then: “Please have this looked at immediately and act accordingly and with expediency … Please advise me at your earliest opportunity what action you have taken.”

Four hours later, after the chief executive had met the council’s lawyers, my suspension letter contained no mention of anti-Semitism – obviously because there wasn’t any. Presumably Cllr Cowan was informed of his mistake, as he had asked to be informed. That would have been a good moment to drop his complaint. I think he owes me an apology.

Having mentioned the “very great risk of dismissal to any person who expresses their lawful political views outside the workplace”, the tribunal added:

This is particularly so where it seems that, as in this case, members of parliament are willing to put pressure on employers to dismiss employees who hold views with which that MP vehemently disagrees.

This is a reference to the involvement of Greg Hands, Tory MP for Chelsea and Fulham. But his two public tweets to Stephen Cowan urging action against me, on March 26 and 27, were merely his contribution to the Enough is Enough anti-Labour demonstration. They had nothing to do with the council, nor with my employment. Greg Hands did not yet know that I was a council employee.

When he read in the newpapers that the council had initiated disciplinary proceedings against me, he must have been over the moon! So he posted on his twitter feed an open letter to Stephen Cowan, urging “Action on anti-Semitism at Hammersmith and Fulham Council”, saying, with reckless disregard for worker’s rights to a fair disciplinary procedure:

I failed to see what further needs to be investigated and how could this man ever return to his role, interacting with tenants and landlords, who may well view Mr Keable as not assessing their circumstances entirely objectively. I believe that your response to these shocking statements by Mr Keable has been both weak and inadequate.

As has been normal throughout the witch-hunt, superlative outrage and false accusations of anti-Semitism are unaccompanied by concrete evidence. Hands’s open letter, 10 days after my suspension, made him the second and last person to complain to the council. In truth there were only two complainants: Labour councillor Stephen Cowan and Tory MP Greg Hands. So much for “reputational damage”.

The council has damaged its own reputation. Attempting to ban public criticism of a racist ideology does not sit well with its equality, diversity and inclusivity policy. My words in parliament square, which the council found “offensive”, the tribunal judge described as “calm, rational, non-threatening and conversational”. The establishment’s witch-hunt against critics of Israel’s persecution of the Palestinian people has made the Labour Party a hostile environment for socialists. The case against me brought the witch-hunt into the workplace.

Case No: EA-2019-000733-DA (previously UKEAT/0333/19/DA)

EA-2020-000129-DA (previously UKEAT/0134/20/DA)


Statement by R&A Solicitors

R&A Solicitors are pleased to report that our client Stan Keable has defeated his employer’s appeal in the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“the EAT”), and that the EAT has upheld the Employment Tribunal’s findings that Mr Keable was unfairly dismissed and should now be reinstated.

The ET’s finding was upheld, that the Council had acted unfairly in dismissing Mr Keable for bringing the Council into disrepute, “when he expressed his political views in a lawful way, entirely away from the working environment, with no connection to the work at the time, even if those views caused offence to some people.”

Mr Keable was dismissed in May 2018 after attending a rally outside Parliament (“Enough is Enough”) at which both supporters and opponents of then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were present. Mr Keable was filmed at a great distance from his workplace, and footage of him speaking with another protester was shared without his consent on Twitter, where a journalist gave his words a misleading caption, “Anti-Semitism Didn’t Cause the Holocaust and Zionists Collaborated with the Nazis.” The film was seen by nearly 80,000 people.

He was investigated by Hammersmith and Fulham Council, who refused to put to Mr Keable the case which they then relied on in dismissing him – namely that the words he used were likely to be misunderstood online.

Her Honour Judge Tucker upheld the finding of the original Tribunal that Mr Keable’s dismissal was unfair, and that it was wrong of the employer to dismiss him without putting its case to him: “A fair and open procedure, where there is cooperation, genuine and effective communication regarding a disciplinary charge, is far more likely to engender reflection, perhaps regret or expressions of remorse which may in turn lead to better performance in the future, than a hostile, unduly adversarial or closed procedure”. HHJ Tucker also upheld the Tribunal’s findings that Mr Keable should be reinstated.

Following the defeat of the employer’s appeal, R& A solicitors said, “The decision of the Appeal Tribunal vindicates Mr Keable, who faced terrible accusations of antisemitism, which he has shown were false. The employer wanted to make this case about Twitter. They said that what matters is not what a person said but how words are perceived on social media. This judgment shows that they have wrongly punished an innocent man.”

His barrister, David Renton, commented “This is the first time in nearly a decade that an appeal court has upheld an order that a worker should be reinstated. Hammersmith and Fulham should now do the right thing and let him have his old job back”

Mr Keable was represented by R&A Solicitors who instructed David Renton of Garden Court Chambers.

EAT judgment here – https://drive.google.com/file/d/1j9J8zPlGfJ05XCI5hmtjyI2Ix66OTYAZ/view


 

Comments (28)

  • Paul Smith says:

    I noted how bland was the report in the Guardian but I suppose ‘we should be grateful for small mercies’ in that it was reported. It must have hurt the Guardian!

    Has David Grossman apologized or even commented?

  • Dave says:

    This is rare good news and just great for Stan. Hopefully it will put a brake on similar dismissals and give weight to David Miller’s appeal at Bristol University (if he is doing so).

    I presume the barrister David Renton is the same David Renton who has had his book on left antisemitism torn to shreds by Tony Greenstein and mauled somewhat by Paul Field. It seems Mr Renton is working both sides, which he’s entitled to do, but political credibility is not his strong suit.

    I hope you publish Tony’s review, or at least some of it.

  • Philip Ward says:

    A welcome small victory. Congratulations to Stan Keable.

    Can you please put the paragraphs in Stan’s statement that are quotes in ” or italicise them? Thank you.

  • Linda says:

    Delighted with this news. I’ve long felt the law courts / tribunals are victims’ main safeguards against those using unfounded, malevolent allegations of antisemitism as a political weapon. Will the U of Bristol back down and apologise NOW … or wait until after they’ve lost their case against Dr Miller? And will the case(s) be enough to force a rethink within Labour?

  • Daniel Vulliamy says:

    I wonder how transferable some of the ET and EAT findings might be to the cases of those suspended, excluded or threatened with either by the Labour leadership on similar grounds; or does the labelling of Labour as a private club get the leadership off any hook?

  • John McGarrie says:

    Would like to know more about Unison’s role in the case.
    Did they back Stan?
    Did they fund his legal case?
    Local Labour party: Have they questioned the councillor’s role in the sacking of Stan?

  • Neil Hunt says:

    Well done Stan Keable. You would imagine we were living in the 30s or the 19th Century seeing once again entitled politicians and lackey employers dismissing people at will. Hopefully a landmark decision of the court.

  • Irena Fick says:

    Congratulations. A ray of light in an otherwise hostile environment for workers and socialists. I don’t suppose the Labour Party will reinstate him.

  • Rosa says:

    A great victory for free speech and common sense. Incidentally, David Renton is a Barrister. He is engaged to advise and represent clients. His own personal views are irrelevant. He will work for whichever “side” briefs him. That is what barristers do.

  • Moshé Machover says:

    Good news and excellent precedent for the right to free speech. I congratulate Stan, and am proud to have actively supported his case from the very start.

  • This is very good news indeed and congratulations to David Renton on securing it despite our other differences!

    I was Stan’s representative at the initial hearing with his employers. He was told in the report of the the investigative officer that he should have known not to go on the JVL demonstration as it was likely to be reported. So this was not just about freedom of speech but freedom of association.

    However there is another victim – me!

    Initially it was being handled by UNISON London Regional Official Steve Terry, the Chief Whip on Walthamstow Council and a supporter of Progress. The only thing he would accept was Stan apologising and throwing himself on the mercy of the Council. A winning strategy!

    When Stan refused to follow his advice UNISON cut off all help. I had a heated conversation with Terry and then took over representation. UNISON then actively prevented me representing Stan at the appeal hearing. Having a law degree I have appeared at Employment Tribunals and the EAT for over a decade.

    When I criticised Terry on my blog I was subject to disciplinary proceedings which resulted in my suspension from UNISON for 3 years with loss of all membership rights. I thus left and joined UNITE.

    The inability to criticise unelected UNISON officials is part and parcel of the lack of democracy and corruption among UNISON officials.

  • So happy at this outcome. Stan exonerated at last! It’s setting a precedent & victory for others too. Heads will roll or they should.
    Well done all concerned but above all: Well done Stan !!!

  • Patrick Lonergan says:

    Congratulations Stan for fighting the case. As a local government employee myself ,it is very worrying that political activity outside the workplace can so easily lead to accusations of this nature and you losing your job.
    We seem to live in a world where workers can be sacked easily by people who make allegations from outside the workplace.

  • rc says:

    Hands, Cowan and Austin (the ‘dismissing officer’ as above) should suffer personally for their gross and fraudulent libels (and worse).
    Gowan is plainly unfit for public (or any?) office.
    Congrats and good luck Stan, though the Groucho gambit is open albeit t b modified “I would not wish to join a club that would have me a a member….”

  • Allan Howard says:

    What I really REALLY can’t get my head round is how on EARTH can anyone be offended by an historical fact! It just doesn’t make sense, or am I missing something.

    Anyway, I assume neither Stephen Cowan or Greg Hands will be apologising to Stan, which says it all really! Or David Grossman for that matter!

    NB Hardly anyone had ever heard of The Haavara Agreement prior to Ken Livingstone’s radio interview in 2016 but a handful of people who DID, started getting it out there in the weeks and months following the interview, and the phony furore and mountain-loads of faux outrage that ensued. That said, the vast majority of people have still not heard about it, and I very much doubt that any of the MSM mentioned it at the time that Stan was suspended from his job etc, but as with Ken, you can be absolutely certain that every main-stream editor and journalist were aware of The Haavara Agreement within a few hours of Ken being verbally attacked by John Mann – albeit all an act – and Ken being suspended.

  • Gen Doy says:

    really interesting to read this and Stan Keable’s account so well-written and clear. what a disgraceful saga of cowardice, lies and hatred directed against Stan, one of many these days alas. At last he has won his case but the cost to him personally in terms of stress etc must be awful. I have no doubt Kier Starmer (a lawyer i believe!) and co will pay no attention to the favourable judgement gained by Stan and they will press on with attacks on the left, and attacks on those who criticise the actions of the Israeli State.

  • Dave Putson says:

    Given that Hammersmith and Fulham will be needing to pay Mr Keable compensation will there also be an equally relevant sum due from Greg Hands MP for the repetitional damage to Mr Keable by Mr Hands unevidenced comments ?

  • Philip Ward says:

    Some of the comments raise the question of seeking redress through the courts against the propagators of the malicious accusations against Stan. It is perhaps worth considering whether this is possible. A ruling against this vexatious accusation of “antisemitism” and suitable compensation could perhaps help put a stop to this witch hunt and help sink the IHRA definition, at least in England and Wales.

    I’m not normally a person to put any faith in the bourgeois legal system, but perhaps people with some expertise could say whether they think legal action on this issue is a good idea.

  • Linda says:

    If it’s practicable to take WINNABLE legal action more widely against vexatious accusations of antisemitism proven to result in harm to the victims, then I agree with Philip Ward’s thoughts.

    What’s happened so often in the past is that aggressors alleging antisemitism as a “weapon of war” against others have faced no personal risk in doing so. They presumably knew before making the allegations that those important to them would “cover their backs”. Those in support probably also had the media connections necessary to ensure AS stories were presented the way they wanted – or vanished if that was the preferable option.

    Assuming cases are winnable and the legal teams rebutting the vexatious claims are adequately resourced, then the makers and backers of merit-free accusations risk having their conduct and evidence scrutinised much more rigorously and impartially than suits them. There will be sanctions for misconduct (whether financial in the form of compensation or judges’ comments, some of which may appear in the mainstream press as well as in specialist legal media). Eventually enough of a track record may build up of successful claims against vexatious allegations of antisemitism for those making them to discard this as a weapon … and try something new. Regular defeats in the law courts may permanently damage the credibility of those organisations and individuals making and backing the unfounded attacks.

    We need a new version of the Good Law Project, don’t we? How many of us have household insurance that supports legal cases we may need to take?

  • Rene Gimpel says:

    A wonderful victory, Stan, well done!

  • Anthony Aloysious says:

    Dear All,

    Wonderful news thank Mr Keable won and thank you for Jewish Voice for Labour for the web link.

    Thank you.

    Best wishes
    Anthony Aloysious

  • Iqbal Sram says:

    Just for information I was the barrister who represented Mr Keable at the Employment Tribunal Hearing and at the Remedy Hearing at which reinstatement was discussed and ordered. I could not represent Mr Keable at the EAT due to Covid related issues.

    Iqbal Sram

  • Jacob Ecclestone says:

    One of the most depressing aspects of this appalling story is that David Grossman, a senior journalist with many years of experience working for the BBC’s Newsnight, apparently cared so little about checking his sources or the context or the historical truth of what was said in the video clip he was sent (by whom and why ?) that he behaved like a novice on a local paper. “Wow ! Here’s a cracking story which ticks all the boxes in the Beeb’s hysteria about anti-semitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party – let’s post it on Twitter.”

    When the English middle-classes nod their heads sagely and talk about how the BBC has been “dumbed-down”, this is presumably what they mean.

    Grossman should be ashamed of his lack of professional standards.

    Huge congratulations to Stan Keable and all those who fought to establish the truth. Sad that the BBC and its highly paid journalists now seem to care so little about it.

  • Stan Keable says:

    Thanks to all those who helped to achieve this small victory – vindication for me personally, and, more importantly, for the fight against the witch-hunt. Thanks to H&F Unison local government branch – Bruce Mackay and Patsy Ishmael in particular – who stepped up when Unison HQ withdrew legal advice and support because I rejected the advice if Regional Officer Steve Terry to abandon the hard-won rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

    Thanks to my Jewish ex-wife Hilary Russell, whose character reference (anti-Zionist, not anti-Jewish) was important to the tribunal but not the the council; to Tony Greenstein and JVL witnesses Moshé Machover, Mike Cushman, Pamela Blakelock and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi; to work colleagues John Davies and Jane Rayner, who spoke up for me at the ET; to all those who contributed financially; and to barristers Iqbal Sram at the ET and David Renton at the EAT, and solicitor David Phillips – they should be proud if having done a brilliant job.

  • Dr Rodney Watts says:

    Great news for Stan, and indeed for all who have been affected by the meshugas of the Labour Party. I am interested in and glad for Iqbal Sram’s comment. (Also thanks for all your contribution in this saga, Iqbal.) What I now hope is that David Renton has reassessed his own position on anti-Semitism in the LP.

  • Arthur West says:

    Not the first time I have seen politicians make extreme statements about individuals involved in disciplinary proceedings – rather than let the proceedings go ahead and hopefully fairly investigate issues . I also understand the irresponsible reporting of the case was done by a Newsnight programme – which is very disappointing .

  • Ranil Hewavisenti says:

    If Cllr. Cowan has any honour, he will resign as a councillor and from membership of the LP. He has brought both the LP and LBHF into disrepute. LBHF has incurred significant financial cost due to his ill advised actions.

    What is unclear to me from piece is the role played by Stan Keable’s union – Unison in representing their member.

  • Linda P says:

    Congratulations Stan, it’s disgraceful that you’ve had to go through years of this witch hunt, so glad you bravely carried on fighting and won.

Comments are now closed.