#TheLabourFiles: Whip letters prove they knew hack was illegal

The Al Jazeera investigations broadcast last week included correspondence from a retired barrister to Labour’s General Secretary that identified the handling of stolen data by party officials in Croydon as unlawful. But David Evans did nothing about it. By STEVEN DOWNES

Unlawfully obtained: Labour Party officials circulated hacked data. They never notified the police

Correspondence obtained by broadcasters Al Jazeera and used in their series of documentaries, The Labour Files, show that at least some senior members of the Labour Party in Croydon knew that they were probably breaking the law by handling data stolen in a malicious hack attack against this website in February 2021.

Inside Croydon has now obtained further documents, a chain of emails from Croydon councillor Jerry Fitzpatrick to Labour HQ, which definitively demonstrate that knowledge of the illegal hack attack went right to the very top of the Labour Party.

And that David Evans, the party’s General Secretary, and Labour HQ’s lawyers chose to do nothing about it.

Fitzpatrick was a Labour councillor for Addiscombe West ward until earlier this year.

A retired barrister, Fitzpatrick was elected by the Labour group as chief whip in early 2021, and inherited from his predecessor, “Thirsty” Clive Fraser, a file of emails and documents that were being used selectively to persecute three fellow councillors who had blown the whistle on the dysfunctional council that had gone bust in 2020.

Ignored: retired lawyer Jerry Fitzpatrick

The Al Jazeera programme makers showed, briefly, one extract from Fitzpatrick’s correspondence to Labour HQ after he had had a chance to assimilate the information that Fraser was hoarding, and which the Labour official – a close ally of discredited ex-leader Tony Newman and Blairite MP Steve Reed – had for some reason failed to hand over to the police.

Documents obtained by Inside Croydon show that Fitzpatrick wrote to Labour HQ seeking help and advice on at least three occasions.

The email trail shows that Fitzpatrick’s appeals for help were noted and acknowledged by both Evans and Alex Barros-Curtis, Labour’s executive director of legal affairs.

Before getting his job at Labour HQ, Barros-Curtis had worked for four months in a senior position in Keir Starmer’s Labour leadership campaign. In 2016, Barros-Curtis worked on the Owen Smith leadership campaign that began with the “Chicken Coup” which sought to undermine the democratically elected Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

A shadowy figure behind the scenes (he’d set up the companies that ran the Smith and Starmer campaigns), Barros-Curtis claimed that he was a “trusted adviser to Mr Smith and the campaign’s chair and vice-chair in the campaign’s final weeks”. When it came to a vote of the membership, Corbyn was resoundingly re-elected, with more than 61per cent of the vote.

So it should be pretty clear where Barros-Curtis’s political sympathies lie.

As a previously practising solicitor, Barros-Curtis would normally be expected to abide by and uphold the law.

The Fitzpatrick correspondence raises some serious questions about whether Labour’s executive director of legal affairs has always done so.

Just after 4pm on Wednesday, March 24, 2021, Barros-Curtis’s Labour HQ email account received the first in a series of emails from Croydon’s Fitzpatrick. The subject field states, “Croydon Council Labour Group – disciplinary issues – legal advice sought – legal confidentiality applies”.

Fitzpatrick’s email begins: “I am chief whip of the Croydon Labour group. I am a retired barrister, having practised for 20 years at the family bar. I am writing to seek legal advice.”

Stolen data: Labour councillor Clive Fraser has avoided reporting crime to the police

Fitzpatrick notes that he had succeeded Fraser on March 17. “On 10 March, Clive embarked on a disciplinary investigation, writing to three Group members who have allegedly passed (and continue to pass) confidential matters relating to Group business to Steven Downes, the editor of a local blog, ‘Inside Croydon’.

“Both the editor of the blog and the three councillors are aware that emails have been hacked and provided to Clive Fraser.”

Fitzpatrick attached an email that was sent to Hamida Ali, the leader of the Labour group at the time, on March 17, from Inside Croydon.

Ali never responded to that email.

In that email, I wrote, “In the past I have reported how your group’s chief whip…”, referring to Fraser, “…has failed in his public and legal duties to report crimes to the proper authorities.

“On this occasion, his actions and abuse of my documents open you all to accusations of criminal conduct. The documents appear to have been obtained in breach of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and the Data Protection Act 2018.

“You appear to be guilty of an offence under these Acts, either as a principal or an accessory. I have reported this matter to the police and to the Information Commissioner.

“If you should decide to do the right thing and have all the documents handed in to the police and provide evidence in a statement, you might wish to note that the Metropolitan Police’s crime reference number is NFRC210304351871.”

‘What he provided does not even begin to dispose of my concerns’

In his own, initial email to Barros-Curtis’s office, Fitzpatrick confirmed that Fraser had previously sought advice from Labour’s London regional office.

The London office had provided Fraser with a step-by-step guide on how to share hacked data.

Fitzpatrick wrote: “This [is] no criticism of [the named London region official] but what he provided to Clive does not even begin to dispose of my concerns.

“The information he has given does not answer the legal questions which need to be considered…”

Fitzpatrick lays out the circumstances under which, in criminal and civil court proceedings, illegally obtained evidence is sometimes admissible.

No action: Just as she did for six years under Tony Newman, Hamida Ali failed to act over wrong-doing

But he then adds his own caveat: “I am not acting with judicial powers either criminal or civil… I am not assuming that someone conducting an investigation within the Labour Party has the same power as a judge to review illegally obtained evidence.”

Fitzpatrick goes on to explain that “… case law does suggest that there is a public interest in the right of a journalist to protect confidential sources and the right of an elected representative to put into the public domain matters in which the public may have a legitimate interest.

“Unfortunately, Croydon has received criticism from auditors and a government team in respect of opaque decision-making processes. These decisions have had disastrous financial consequences for the borough… This makes it politically more difficult for those in the leadership of the Croydon Council Labour group to say that those who acted to put information in the public domain are wrong-doers.”

Fitzpatrick then asks five questions of Labour HQ’s legal eagles, including, “Should I deliver up to the police the evidence in the party’s possession (and which it continues to receive) which has been obtained illegally?” He also raised the possibility that his disciplinary investigation, using the hack data, could possibly prejudice the police’s criminal inquiries.

Fitzpatrick also sought reassurance from Labour chiefs on two very telling points: would he be indemnified by the party for pursuing the disciplinary cases using the hacked data, and “will the party meet all our reasonable legal costs?”

On March 25 2021, the day after Fitzpatrick’s first email, Barros-Curtis’s departmental email – “Legal Queries” – forwarded it to the party’s Data Protection department.

On April 11, having not had a response to his initial email, Fitzpatrick sent a gentle reminder.

Endorsed use of hacked emails: David Evans did nothing to help local party officials

On April 19, Fitzpatrick wrote directly to Evans “in order to seek to expedite the obtaining of a response.” Fitzpatrick later wrote that “David kindly responded… stating that he would ask [Barros-Curtis] ‘to see where we are and what we might do’.”

Clearly, the General Secretary of the Labour Party had knowledge of this case, but did nothing to stop stolen data being used to purge Labour councillors.

Evans’s “history” in Croydon, his past relationship with Alison Butler, Croydon Labour’s deputy leader until October 2020, his backing of Tony Newman’s council, and the £200,000-plus that his company, The Campaign Company, received from the council following Labour’s 2014 Town Hall election victory, has been well-documented elsewhere.

Yet by May 3 2021, Evans had still not managed to summon up a reply for Jerry  Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick wrote to Barros-Curtis again, updating that since his email to Evans on April 19, “I have become aware that someone has hacked into the email accounts of at least two members of our group”. Blind copies of emails were being whizzed off to Fraser and Ali.

Fitzpatrick had additional questions. Did Fraser and Ali have “a legal obligation to inform the councillors whose account has been hacked”? And “Do Cllr Ali and Cllr Fraser have an obligation to inform the police that they are receiving information which appears to have been illegally obtained?”

There’s nothing further in The Labour Files from that email chain. It seems that David Evans never did find out “what we might do”, or get back to Jerry Fitzpatrick to assure him that, if he and Fraser were to be sued for handling stolen data, the Labour Party would pay their legal costs.

No one from the Labour Party in Croydon – not Ali, nor Fraser, nor current group leader Stuart King – has ever handed over the stolen data files nor made a statement to the police about how they received them.

And later in 2021, Jerry Fitzpatrick stood down as Croydon Labour group chief whip, officially on “health grounds”.

He did not seek re-election to the council in May 2022. Taking Fitzpatrick’s place on the Labour slate in his Addiscombe West ward was Clive Fraser.

Read more: #TheLabourFiles: MP Reed, Evans and the Croydon connection
Read more: Chief whip worked with group that attacks council policy
Read more: #TheLabourFiles programmes show party ‘corrupt to the core’
Read more: #TheLabourFiles: anti-racism campaigner expelled by party
Read more: #TheLabourFiles: MP Reed provided endorsement for Stanger

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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