Livingstone cleared of misconduct

Ken Livingstone has won his high court appeal against a ruling that he had brought his office into disrepute by likening a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard.

The mayor of London had been handed a four-week suspension for his off-duty remarks to Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold, but today Justice Andrew Collins said he had been entitled to make the comments.

“Freedom of speech is not limited to polite observations. Anybody can be as offensive as they wish, provided they do not break the law of the land,” the judge said.

He said Mr Livingstone’s comments were “indefensible” and said he should have apologised – something the mayor consistently refused to do.

Mr Justice Collins said the mayor exercised “real power” over millions of people and was therefore expected to conduct himself “to a high standard suitable of his office”.

But the judge said the Adjudication Panel for England was “clearly wrong” to see the remarks to Mr Finegold as bringing the mayor’s office into disrepute or in breach of the Greater London Authority (GLA) code of conduct.

The panel – which took up the case after complaints from the standards watchdog – had applied a test which “failed to recognise the real distinction between the man and the office”, he said.

The case was sparked by an incident in February last year, when Mr Finegold approached the mayor as he was leaving a party. Mr Livingstone has long had bad relations with the Evening Standard and its owners, Associated Newspapers.

In reference to the newspaper group’s support for fascism in the 1930s, he asked whether the reporter was a “German war criminal”. When Mr Finegold said he was Jewish, the mayor likened him to a Nazi concentration camp guard for simply following orders.

Earlier this month, the judge had indicated he would quash Mr Livingstone’s suspension – which was due to start on March 1st – but waited until today to give his reasons.