Peter Hamilton, a magistrate and member of the Jarrow branch of the party, went to the courts seeking up to £1,000 for the ‘distress and embarrassment’ the allegations had caused him, as well as access to documents he claimed contained details of the complaints against him.
But although a judge dismissed his claim for cash, it was also ordered some papers related investigations into Mr Hamilton’s behaviour should be released, but not everything Mr Hamilton requested.
“Maybe I’m a bit thick,” said Deputy District Judge Stuart Berry, sitting at Middlesbrough County Court, “but I think this is all a storm in a teacup.
“I don’t think it’s a slander case, I don’t think it’s a money case, I think it’s someone who wants to protect his reputation but perhaps not by the right means.”
Wilf Flynn, a member of South Tyneside Council (STC), was named the defendant in the case as Mr Hamilton claimed he was responsible for the information he was trying to secure in his role as secretary of the Jarrow Constituency Labour Party (JCLP).
On Friday, October 11, the court heard what District Judge Berry called ‘infighting’ in the Monkton ward branch had started the dispute.
“That seems to have led to conflict [with] the claimant which led to derogatory remarks against Mr Hamilton and these were raised in a Monkton ward committee meeting,” he said.
“The outcome of the complaint was that the local committee felt it should be investigated and that was the resolution of the complaint.
“Suffice to say, without going through the whole history, it finished with a commissioner or some officer of the ICO deciding no action would be taken and it’s a pity no further action was taken because here we are in the county court some time later.”
Mr Hamilton claimed he had tried to obtain copies of documents, including details of complaints against him and minutes of Labour Party meetings, by making ‘subject access requests’ under the terms of the Data Protection Act, but after being rebuffed he was advised by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to take legal action.
He said: “No one likes to hear information being floated around saying you’re racist, when you’re not, or that you’re homophobic, when you’re not.”
However, although Mr Hamilton brought the case against Mr Flynn, District Judge Berry said he did not consider Mr Flynn ‘personally’ liable for acting in his role as a representative of JCLP.
Mark O’Grady, representing Mr Flynn, called the case brought by Mr Hamilton a ‘fishing expedition’ which should not have made it to a courtroom.
Summing up his decision, District Judge Berry said: “I am not going to say the claimant [Mr Hamilton], who is not a lawyer, has acted in a disproportionate way.
“He has been, rightly or wrongly, subject to a lot of abuse, although I’m not making any comment on that, on whether it occurred or did not.”
Addressing Mr Hamilton, he added: “Your feelings may be hurt, you may be furious with these politicians, but if you look in the newspapers every day politicians are slighting each other and each others’ ideas every day.
“I don’t think it was a particularly wise application and I would put it behind you.”