The Observer on Michael Brown and that Lib Dem donation: economic with the actualite

by Stephen Tall on September 7, 2008

The spectre of Michael Brown – currently on the run ahead of a fraud trial due to begin this month – and his £2.4m donation to the Lib Dems in 2005 returns to the headlines today, with news from The Observer that Lib Dems face court over funding:

The Liberal Democrats are facing an embarrassing High Court battle with a lawyer who says that the party wrongly accepted £632,000 of his money as part of a donation. Robert Mann, 60, claims that the party failed to carry out adequate checks on the money which was received as part of a £2.4m gift from the financier Michael Brown. … On Thursday, Mann’s solicitors at the City fraud specialists Bivonas advised the party that a writ will be placed before the Royal Courts of Justice this week demanding the return of the money. It follows an exchange of legal letters last month seen by this newspaper.

Missing from this news report of course (as we’ve come to expect from the mainstream media) is any reference to the verdict of the Electoral Commission when they investigated the case. As The Observer’s reporter Rajeev Syal has dismally failed in his duty to furnish his readers with the basic facts of the story – remarking only that the Commission’s inquiry has been suspended: true, but not the whole truth – let Lib Dem Voice once again remind readers what the Commission has said:

The Electoral Commission has previously made clear its view that it was reasonable for the Liberal Democrats – based on the information available to them at the time – to regard the donations they received from 5th Avenue Partners Ltd in 2005, totalling just over £2.4m, as permissible.

“It remains the Commission’s view that the Liberal Democrats acted in good faith at that time, and the Commission is not re-opening the question of whether the party or its officers failed to carry out sufficient checks into the permissibility of the donations.”

You might have thought Mr Syal and The Observer would have felt it worthwhile letting their readers know that the Commission had previously judged the party had “acted in good faith”. But then that might have added balance to a story; and to think journalists accuse blogs of factual tardiness.

Finally, readers may wish to speculate which party in this case cared to show to The Observer “an exchange of legal letters last month seen by this newspaper”. Might it, perhaps, have been Robert Mann in a rather crude bid to embarrass the Lib Dems ahead of the party’s conference as a legal short-cut? Surely The Observer wouldn’t have allowed itself to be manipulated in such a way? Just asking, y’know.