Legal victory for Livingstone

The Mayor of London Ken Livingstone: Suspension will be overturned

London Mayor Ken Livingstone has had his four-week suspension from office - for likening a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard - quashed.

Mr Justice Collins said the suspension would be overturned, regardless of whether or not the Mayor won his appeal against the Adjudication Panel for England's finding that he had breached the Greater London Authority's code of conduct by making the jibe.

The judge said: "I have made it clear the suspension will be quashed whatever I decide on whether the panel's finding was correct.''

The judge reserved his final judgment on Mr Livingstone's appeal to a later date, saying: "It is not an easy case. There are certain ramifications, whatever I decide, which will affect other matters.''

During the two-day hearing, Mr Livingstone's lawyers argued that the panel's decision, made in February, was legally flawed on a number of grounds, including the fact that the Mayor had not been acting in his official capacity at the time of the incident.

The panel's ruling was defended by the Ethical Standards Officer (ESO), who referred the case to the disciplinary body. The ESO contended that the Mayor's arguments were over-complicated and "trivialised'' the code of conduct and there was no basis for the judge substituting his own judgment for that of the panel.

But the Mayor's hopes of not having to serve the four-week suspension imposed for his breach of the code rose following an indication from the ESO that he was "neutral'' on the issue and was not seeking to uphold the penalty.

His counsel, James Maurici, told Mr Justice Collins the "Nazi'' incident took place while Mr Livingstone was off duty and attending a reception at City Hall to mark 20 years since former Culture Secretary Chris Smith became Britain's first openly-gay MP.

Evening Standard newspaper reporter Oliver Finegold and a photographer were "doorstepping'' the event, attempting to interview guests as they left the function.

On being repeatedly asked a question after indicating that he did not wish to be interviewed, Mr Livingstone asked Mr Finegold, who was accompanied by a photographer, whether he had ever been a "German war criminal''.

On hearing that Mr Finegold was Jewish, the Mayor likened him to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

Mr Maurici quoted a comment by William Rees-Mogg in The Times that the tribunal's decision was to "inflate trivial disputes of the late evening into matters of state''.

It had been made "crystal clear'' to the Evening Standard that it had not been invited to the reception, and Mr Livingstone regarded the newspaper's actions as tantamount to harassment of what was a predominantly gay and lesbian event.

After the Mayor indicated he did not want to be interviewed, Mr Finegold, armed with a tape recorder, followed him along the street, repeatedly asking him the same question.

That led to a 35-second exchange in which Mr Livingstone "made a number of remarks aimed at showing his disdain for the Evening Standard and the behaviour of the reporter who approached him after the reception'', said Mr Maurici.

"Mr Livingstone has long held well-documented, lawful and, we say, political views as to the association of both the Evening Standard and its owners,Associated Newspapers, with far right-wing politics.''

The newspaper did not consider the incident of sufficient importance to report the matter, but a complaint was made by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The panel found him guilty of making remarks that were "unnecessarily insensitive and offensive''.