October 6, 2006
LONDON – London’s Mayor Ken Livingstone won a High Court challenge on Thursday to overturn a four-week suspension from office for likening a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard.
At the end of a two-day hearing Justice Andrew Collins said he would quash the suspension and give his full decisions and reasons at a later date.
In February this year the Standards Board for England had found Livingstone’s comments to journalist Oliver Finegold some 12 months earlier to be “unnecessarily insensitive and offensive”.
The Board suspended Livingstone, one of Britain’s most colorful and popular politicians, for a month beginning March 1, for bringing his office as Mayor of London into disrepute.
The suspension was delayed by the High Court while the mayor appealed.
Livingstone has consistently refused to apologize for the
remarks and said the panel that suspended him had overstepped its remit.
Opening the case on Wednesday, Livingstone’s lawyer said it was “wholly untenable” that the mayor’s comments were of sufficient gravity to bring his office into disrepute.
Livingstone has said Finegold had been harassing him as he
left a function to return home in February 2005.
He has also denied any bias against Jews, adding that accusations of anti-Semitism were being raised “to give weight to charges which would otherwise be too trivial to merit the gigantic fuss that has been made about this brief private exchange.”
Livingstone sparked the rumpus when Finegold identified
himself as working for the Evening Standard, a paper loathed by the mayor.
Livingstone asked: “What did you do? Were you a German war criminal?”
Finegold said he was Jewish and found the remarks offensive. Livingstone replied that the reporter was “like a concentration camp guard – you are just doing it because you are paid to.”
The outspoken mayor won election to the newly created post in 2000 after leaving the Labour Party and beating the official Labour candidate.
He has since returned to the party, but has clashed with
Prime Minister Tony Blair on Iraq and other issues.
He was widely praised last year, including by the Evening Standard, for guiding London’s successful bid for the 2012 Olympics and for his response to the suicide bomb attacks on the city’s transport network in which 52 commuters died.