Evening Standard journalist Oliver Finegold

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Overcoat helps London Mayor
in legal battle against reporter

By Andrew Stevens, UK Editor

10 January 2006: The hearing to decide on London Mayor Ken Livingstone's alleged breach of the local government code of conduct has been adjourned until January 2006, though his legal team scored a partial victory in having one of the two charges laid against Mr Livingstone dropped by arguing that, at the time of the incident, the Mayor was wearing an overcoat and thus not working.

The Standards Board for England's Adjudication Panel was asked to look at the case following the Greater London Authority's own Standards Committee's failure to resolve the dispute, which has invoked a convoluted process that many argue is a waste of time and money. The sequence of events began in February when Mr Livingstone was caught on tape making aggressive remarks to Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold outside City Hall. Mr Livingstone subsequently refused to apologise and the Board of Jewish Deputies, the national representatives of lay Jewry in Britain, then made an official complaint to the Standards Board. In theory, under the law concerning the local government code of conduct, Mr Livingstone could face either a partial suspension from office or even removal from office. The board could also force the mayor to attend specialised 'training' to ensure further incidents of this nature did not happen again.

During the two-day hearing in London, Mr Livingstone's legal team was successful in arguing that the mayor was not acting in an official capacity when the argument took place. The panel accepted his team's argument that as Mr Livingstone was wearing an overcoat and had left City Hall to go home then he could not be deemed to be still working. His team had initially argued that the case should be dismissed altogether as it was in breach of the mayor's human rights but this was not accepted by the three-member panel. The veracity of Mr Finegold's evidence was also challenged by Mr Livingstone's team, owing to a five second gap in the tape recording, where Mr Livingstone contends he was told to "fuck off" by the reporter.

Conservative members of the London Assembly have complained about the mayor's funding of the 1990 Trust, which runs the Black Information Link (Blink) website. Following the commencement of the proceedings against Mr Livingstone, Blink called for its readers to petition the Standards Board by email. The panel will now reconvene later in January.

If found guilty, London Mayor
could be removed from office

Recent headlines surrounding the re-emergence of the spat between Ken Livingstone and a Jewish journalist have placed the London Mayor under a new spotlight. The incident, which took place in February 2005, has been officially referred to a local government conduct panel, which will hear the case before December 2005. If found to be in breach of the Standards Board’s code of conduct, Mr Livingstone could be removed from office.

The incident between Mr Livingstone and London Evening Standard journalist Oliver Finegold took place outside London’s City Hall after a civic reception to mark 20th anniversary of Labour’s Chris Smith coming out as Britain’s first openly gay Member of Parliament. Pressing Mr Livingstone for a quote on leaving the event, Mr Finegold was likened to a German war criminal on account of his employer, whose parent company supported Hitler’s rise to power, it has been claimed. When informed that he was in fact Jewish, Mr Livingstone then compared Mr Finegold to a concentration camp guard. The exchange was recorded on tape by the reporter and the Mayor subsequently faced many calls to apologise, even from within his own party, which he has refused to do.

Mr Livingstone has enjoyed a somewhat tempestuous relationship with the centre right-leaning London evening paper since his election in 2000, though it did support him in that election and in his re-election last June as the most independent-minded and popular of the candidates on offer. He was also referred to the Standards Board in 2002 following an altercation at a private party involving one of the paper’s staff, though the complaint was not upheld on that occasion. Since the incident in February however, relations between the Mayor and the paper have improved following the successful 2012 Olympic bid and the reaction to the July 7 London bombings and could almost be described as having reached a truce.

In spite of the successful Olympic bid and praise for his statesmanlike response to the 7 July 2005 bombings, Mr Livingstone has come under considerable pressure this year for the incident involving Mr Finegold and his on-going support for the controversial Muslim cleric Dr al-Qaradawi. The Mayor’s Office spent considerable public funds on assembling a dossier to refute attacks from London Assembly Members on Mr Livingstone’s support for the cleric, who has incited his followers to murder homosexuals. Most recently the Mayor has lashed out at critics of the Muslim Council of Britain, whom he regards as the mainstream voice of Islam in the UK in spite of recent revelations about extremists among its membership.

The Greater London Authority was established by Parliament in 2000 to provide strategic governance for London following a 14-year absence after the abolition of the Greater London Council also led by Mr Livingstone in 1986. Mr Livingstone was elected as London’s first directly elected mayor in 2000 on an independent ticket, having failed to secure the backing of the Labour Party, whose candidate came third in an election it would normally expect to win. Having been readmitted to the party in January 2004, he was re-elected with Labour’s support in the second set of GLA elections in June of that year. The Standards Board for England was established by Parliament in 2001 to enforce the Local Government Code of Conduct, which covers all councillors and mayors in England. If found to have contravened the code or brought his office into disrepute, Mr Livingstone could face a number of sanctions by the body, including being required to undergo training, loss of office for up to one year or even a ban from public office for five years.

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