United Kingdom

Ex-Jeremy Corbyn aide's 2019 tweet caused 'pile on' for Countdown's Rachel Riley, High Court hears

An ex-Jeremy Corbyn aide's tweet to TV personality Rachel Riley caused 'sleepless nights' and resulted in calls for her sacking, the High Court heard.

Ms Riley, 35, is suing Laura Murray, 32, whose 2019 tweet accused the Countdown star of suggesting the former Labour leader was a Nazi who 'deserves to be violently attacked.'

The row began after a Brexiteer smashed an egg on Mr Corbyn's head during a visit to Finsbury Park Mosque in north London on March 3, 2019.  

Ms Riley had shared a post from Guardian columnist Owen Jones who commented: 'I think sound life advice is, if you don't want eggs thrown at you, don't be a Nazi'.  

But Ms Murray, formerly a senior aide to Mr Corbyn, herself replied to Ms Riley describing her as 'dangerous' and 'stupid' and accusing her of saying the Islington North MP deserved 'to be violently attacked'.

The TV presenter claims Ms Murray's tweet instigated a Twitter 'pile on', which led to sleepless nights and caused people to request her sacking from Channel 4.

Mr Justice Nicklin has been overseeing the High Court case which ended today, with a ruling expected in the near future.

Rachel Riley arrives at the High Court for her libel case on May 11. The Countdown star is accusing a former Jeremy Corbyn aide of defaming her over Twitter

Laura Murray pictured outside the High Court this morning. She tweeted in 2019 that Ms Riley was 'as dangerous as she is stupid' over criticism of the former Labour leader

Laura Murray, pictured with Jeremy Corbyn. Ms Murray denies defamation, and her barrister has argued Ms Riley has been 'misled' in her claim

Both women had posted tweets after Mr Corbyn, who was then Labour leader, was hit with an egg while visiting Finsbury Park Mosque on March 3, 2019.  

Ms Riley shared a post by Guardian columnist Owen Jones about a similar egg assault on former British National Party leader Nick Griffin in January 2019.

Jones had commented: 'I think sound life advice is, if you don't want eggs thrown at you, don't be a Nazi.'

After Corbyn was assaulted, Ms Riley retweeted Jones' post with the words 'good advice' followed by a rose, the Labour emblem, and an egg emoji.


January 10, 2019: Former British National Party leader Nick Griffin tweets he had re-watched footage of '100 far-left thugs attacking a BNP MEP press conference' in 2009.

He says Guardian columnist Owen Jones was 'cheering them on (from the back)'.

Mr Jones replies, saying: 'I think sound life advice is, if you don't want eggs thrown at you, don't be a Nazi. Seems fair to me.'

March 3: An egg is hurled at Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at Finsbury Park Mosque.

Rachel Riley later posts a screenshot of Owen Jones' egg tweet, saying it was 'good advice', with an emoji of a red rose and an egg.

That same day Laura Murray, a senior aide to the then Labour leader, tweets: 'Today, Jeremy Corbyn went to his local mosque for Visit My Mosque Day, and was attacked by a Brexiteer.

'Rachel Riley tweets that Corbyn deserves to be violently attacked because he is a Nazi.

'This woman is as dangerous as she is stupid. Nobody should engage with her... Ever.'

Ms Riley launches legal action.

April 24, 2020: Ms Riley wins the first round in her High Court libel claim over the tweet.

 Mr Justice Nicklin says that an 'imputation that a person had publicly supported a violent attack on someone is plainly defamatory at common law'.

He adds that it is 'conduct which would substantially affect, in an adverse manner, the attitude of other people towards the claimant or have a tendency so to do'.

But he rejects a claim from Ms Murray's lawyer that she was expressing an opinion when she said Ms Riley had said the Labour leader 'deserved to be violently attacked'.

He said it was 'a simple factual statement and would be understood as such'.

May 10, 2021: Ms Riley tells the High Court she was unable to sleep and bombarded with abuse after Jeremy Corbyn's former aide claimed she said he 'deserves to be violently attacked because he is a Nazi'. 

Ms Riley also claimed to the court that Labour showed they 'don't care about jews' by appointing Ms Murray as the party's head of complaints the day after her allegedly libellous tweet. 

Reacting that day, Ms Murray tweeted: 'Today Jeremy Corbyn went to his local mosque for Visit My Mosque Day, and was attacked by a Brexiteer.

'Rachel Riley tweets that Corbyn deserves to be violently attacked because he is a Nazi.

'This woman is as dangerous as she is stupid. Nobody should engage with her... Ever.'

The presenter, who had become a vocal critic of Labour's handling of anti-Semitism allegations, claims Ms Murray was 'dog whistling' her sympathetic Twitter followers to direct a 'pile on' of anger and hate.

She previously told the High Court: 'The allegations in the Tweet have made me feel vulnerable to physical attack which is naturally very worrying.

'The volume of abusive and threatening messages was all-consuming.

'I found it hard to focus on my work and suffered sleepless nights. Even now, the abuse has gone unchecked and my reputation is not vindicated.'

Ms RIley also claims Ms Murray's tweet caused people to ask Channel 4 to sack her.

William McCormick QC, for Ms Murray, said in his closing speech that the presenter is 'inconsistent' in expecting her to take responsibility for her tweet.

'On its face, she's saying: "If you don't want eggs thrown at you, don't be a Nazi".

'It's the claimant's own evidence that she accepts on its face, that's what it means.

'She submits that "well, I was being sarcastic," I think it's fair to say the claimant couldn't explain how she got to the sarcasm.

'I do not dispute that that was her honest intention, it's clear other people seem to have got that.

'What I do say is that not to have got that hypocrisy meaning is entirely natural.

'We are in innuendo territory - her hypocrisy meaning also needs developing. 

'The claimant refuses to accept any good faith in the defendant, this is one of the failures to recognise the shades of grey or nuance in the evidence.

'This was at a time when there was a febrile atmosphere with Brexit not yet done and things were still hot.

'She regarded this as an important matter and regarded this as a dangerous intervention by someone who accepts she has a prominent position in public life, and is prominent as a campaigner.

'The good advice tweet was of public interest and my client had every right to respond in the public interest.

'She did try and engage, she had seen others try and engage.

'She had seen what was unfolding on Twitter, she took the view that it was dangerous, if the claimant chooses not to engage with any challenges on the basis that engaging with any challenge amplified.'

William Bennett QC, for Ms Riley, later told the court: 'No one could reasonably believe it was in the public interest, that it's in the public interest to tell the public she is "dangerous as well as stupid" or that "no one should engage. Ever". 

Mr Bennett added that Ms Murray's tweet was 'personal abuse' in the context of the Twitter pile on. 

'No reasonable person would reach the conclusion that the 'good advice' tweet, that that's what in fact the claimant had said,' he said.

'When you go to that disparity between the 'good advice' tweet and what said, it's clearly not in the public interest to publish something that's so different.'

'At that time the defendant's evidence is that she was looking back and forth between the posts, there are hundreds of replies.

Ms Murray was a former aide of ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (pictured). Riley told the court: 'My view is that the Corbyn-led Labour Party was fostering antisemitism'

'That comment did not say if you don't get back to me these are the allegations I'm going to make about what was said in the good advice tweet.

'There was a pile on, she was taken to the pile on by following the Owen Jones tweet, in those circumstances it wasn't reasonable to make that sort of allegation.

'Some people would have engaged by clicking, others would have engaged in a normal sense.

'It was unreasonable to be telling people to shun my client. This is contrary to freedom of speech.

'It's an outdated expression, but you shouldn't play the woman you should play the ball, in that expression you should see the mischief of that.

'The tweet was sent in order to discredit the claimant because she was causing harm to the Labour party.'

Mr Justice Nicklin, who is presiding over the trial, earlier ruled that Ms Murray's tweet was defamatory in common law. Pictured: The High Court in London - where the case is being heard

He added that Ms Murray's public request for clarification from Ms Riley at 8:10pm was missed due to the number of posts in the 'pile on'.

Ms Riley was receiving a sports massage during the pile on and did not have time to check her messages, the court heard. 

But Mr McCormick continued by saying Ms Riley had been 'misled' by viewing the whole episode through the lens of her campaigning about antisemitism and the Labour party.

'She has no doubt been the subject of vile and misogynistic views, one can see from the sample,' he added.

'It is one of the vices of Twitter that the moderate voice is drowned out by the extremist voice, there is either unwilling or unable to see nuance and shade in arguments that can require subtlety and expression.

'Voices that recognise that withdraw from the field, and those that don't are left, my client is not one of those people.'

Ms Riley's conclusion that she was being targeted by Corbyn's former aide are 'entirely unsupported in evidence,' added Mr McCormick. 

But the presenter wrote in a statement: ‘I had not tweeted that Jeremy Corbyn deserved to be violently attacked.

‘I was really affronted at being called “dangerous and stupid” and that people were being told not to have anything to do with me “ever”.

‘I had made a sarcastic but in my opinion relevant and important comment in relation to Owen Jones and a few hours later the defendant was spreading it round on Twitter that I advocated violence against Jeremy Corbyn because in her words, I had said that he deserved to be attacked because he was a Nazi.’

The trial continues.  

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