Shadow minister given ‘substantial’ sum over false Starmer affair claim

Baroness Chapman, a shadow Cabinet Office minister, took legal action against the Sunday Times’ chief political commentator Tim Shipman over a tweet.

22 February 2022

A shadow minister has received an apology and a substantial sum from a prominent journalist over a tweet that falsely suggested she had a “secret adulterous relationship” with Sir Keir Starmer.

Baroness Chapman, a shadow Cabinet Office minister, took legal action against the Sunday Times’ chief political commentator Tim Shipman over a tweet the journalist posted in May 2021.

On Tuesday, the High Court heard Mr Shipman posted two tweets and two retweets about Baroness Chapman to his Twitter account, which currently has over 170,000 followers.

In his first tweet on May 8 last year, Mr Shipman said that loyalty to Baroness Chapman appeared to be the “most important commodity as far as Labour high command is concerned this evening”.

He later retweeted a tweet that included the phrase: “Who is this woman? What has she got on Starmer?”

His second tweet, which was attributed to an unnamed Labour source, claimed that Baroness Chapman had been banned from Sir Keir’s house “on the orders” of the Labour leader’s wife.

Baroness Chapman’s solicitor Kevin Bonavia said that this tweet would have been understood to mean “that Baroness Chapman has been conducting a secret adulterous relationship with Sir Keir Starmer”.

“That allegation is completely untrue,” he told the High Court in London.

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer (Victoria Jones/PA)

He added: “Despite the fact that Mr Shipman deleted the tweet not long after publication, it was too late – it had already been extensively published and republished to thousands of people – if not more. It went viral.”

Mr Bonavia said the Labour frontbencher and Mr Shipman had settled the issue with the public statement in court as well as a “substantial sum in damages and legal costs”.

The solicitor added: “One of the reasons that she found the allegation so distressing is that it plays into sexist tropes about successful women, undermining not only Baroness Chapman’s own work and authority but that of all women.

“It was made by a serious political commentator – someone who should know better, and whose imprimatur undoubtedly gave it greater credence.

“I repeat that the allegation is entirely false.”

Clare Duffy, for the journalist, said: “Mr Shipman acknowledges that he should not have published the tweet in question and accepts that its implication is entirely untrue.

“Mr Shipman unreservedly apologises for the unlawful conduct and the distress caused to Baroness Chapman.”

After the hearing, Baroness Chapman told the PA news agency: “Tim Shipman let himself down. This was old school sexism.

“He was right to apologise and I accept his apology and look forward to drawing a line under this and moving on.”

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