Kofo David. Photograph: Hackney Labour.

Labour’s selection of local community activist and barrister-in-training Kofo David as its candidate for an upcoming by-election in Clissold has been called into question over historic allegations of sexual harassment and bullying.

The allegations were made public as part of a 2017 court case, in which David unsuccessfully sued fellow East London Foundation Trust (ELFT) governor Zara Hosany for libel after she lodged formal complaints against him with her employers.

Liberal Democrat and Women’s Equality Party candidates competing with David in the by-election have both queried Labour’s decision to select him.

Tabitha Morton, standing for the Women’s Equality Party, said: “Councillors play an important and powerful role in local communities.

“We need to understand exactly how this council candidate was selected by the Hackney Labour Party.

“As a candidate standing for election to Hackney Council I am determined to ensure that Hackney has a zero-tolerance approach to any form of harassment or abuse.”

Mr David took his colleague to court for libel following her complaints to ELFT that he had “[made] a pass” at her, and then, “motivated by his indignation at her having rejected his advances”, bullied and harassed her.

The case, heard by Judge Moloney QC, did not consider whether there was any truth to the allegations but rather on whether Hosany’s complaints to her employers were protected by a defence called ‘qualified privilege’ which applies even where allegations are false, provided they are not malicious.

The court heard that psychologist Hosany said at the time that, following a month of exchanging WhatsApp messages, on 20 January 2015, David “grabbed [her] round the waist, pulled [her] to him and whispered in [her] ear that he wanted to be more than friends with [her]”.

The Labour activist “firmly denied” this, claiming that he had “innocently” touched her back while offering her his umbrella.

Judge Moloney found nothing “shocking or discreditable” regarding David’s reported conduct over the initial supper.

Hosany and David’s professional relationship was said in the subsequent libel judgment to have suffered “an almost complete breakdown”, with a dispute arising between the two over next few days over Hosany’s role as the chair of ELFT’s Governors Quality Improvement group.

While David said this was “a normal part of governors’ business”, Hosany counter-claimed that it was bullying and harassment on Mr David’s part, inspired by her rebuff of his advances.

A voluntary agreement was reached to limit contact between the two at meetings, and in June a formal charge before ELFT’s Council of Governors was brought against David relating to Hosany’s complaints.

Those complaints, according to the judgment on the libel case David subsequently brought against Hosany, alleged that he “persistently [bullied], insulted and intimidated her, face to face, at meetings, and by email, to such an extent that she suffered serious physical and emotional stress”.

According to the judgment, on 30 June 2015 David sent Hosany a pre-action letter preparatory to suing her for defamation for the complaints she had made, with Hosany reporting that at a meeting on the same day he “walked straight past empty chairs to the end of the room where I sat, removed a piece of paper in the seat, sat down and handed it to me. I moved seats.

“He followed me into the next room after the meeting. I left the room.”

In oral evidence, David explained that he has an eyesight problem, such that he sat down in a vacant chair, not realising that it was next to Ms Hosany, and that he went into the next room in order to sign an attendance book, not realising she was there.

Hosany, accompanied by ELFT’s police liaison officer, reported David for harassment following the events of 30 June, and two years later was found innocent of libel by His Honour Judge Moloney QC.

That version of events was summarised by Moloney as: “Two people of the same age and with many interests in common meet in a work context and become friends. They begin to see each other after work.

“Mr David begins calling her nicknames, complimenting her on her appearance, trying to get an invitation to dinner at her flat. Ms Hosany goes along with this to a certain extent, not rebuffing him or avoiding him. One night he goes too far for her, and he immediately apologises for ‘spoiling the evening’.

“The next day, she tries to smooth matters over, but he is resentful and tension begins to show at work. Once matters escalate to the level of a formal written complaint, he is unable to admit the truth of what happened (innocent enough as it was) and is, therefore, compelled to call his accuser a liar.”

The judge further commented that he found it “improbable and inexplicable” that Hosany as a “woman of good character” would escalate a work dispute with a fabricated sexual allegation.

David had claimed that, following a “bona fide disagreement between them about their respective roles in conducting an upcoming public meeting, which led to a heated exchange of emails”, Hosany made up an official complaint, going on to “reinforce it with a deliberately false allegation of sexual harassment” which he described as “the ‘magic bullet’ which would render his position untenable”.

The judgment states that Hosany’s complaints regarding David were made “honestly”, with her “believing that they were true and fair”, and that her interpretation of his subsequently “increasingly hostile” conduct towards her at meetings was “genuinely and sincerely held”.

As a result, Mr David failed to prove that the complaints made by Ms Hosany were made maliciously.

Liberal Democrat’s candidate in Clissold, Teresa Clark, said: “I think there are legimate questions to be asked of Mr David’s selection around the subsequent allegations of bullying.

“Given recent well documented bullying cases in the Labour-run Hackney Council and appalling abuse of their own MPs in some constituencies, I would be interested to know how much these allegations were discussed during his selection to be the Clissold ward candidate.

“I would hope real scrutiny was put on exactly what happened and, if Labour are really serious about stamping out bullying in their party, they continue to be robust in their selection processes going forward.”

The Human Rights Law Centre has said that the David v Hosany judgment “provides necessary encouragement to people to report incidences of sexual harassment in the workplace”, with the court upholding the principle that complaints, properly made and without malice, are protected from defamation actions.

A Labour party spokesperson said: “We are getting on with the serious business of fighting an election on the main issues that matter to the people in the area – keeping Clissold green, supporting local business, fair funding for schools and working to reduce anti-social behaviour and knife crime.”

Labour was quizzed on what weight was given to the libel case in David’s selection, but did not respond on this point.

It is not currently known what internal judgment ELFT made on Hosany’s formal complaints, though as this would be viewed as an internal HR matter it is unlikely that a public comment would be made on them.

Zara Hosany and East London Foundation Trust were approached for comment, but had not responded by time of going to press.

EDIT: This article was updated at 16:30 on 4 December 2019.

The coronavirus outbreak sadly means the Hackney Citizen is unable to print a monthly newspaper for the first time in its 12-year history.

At a time when independent and trusted news is more important than ever, this was an incredibly difficult decision to have to make.

Without print advertising, our major source of income, a one-off donation from anyone who can afford it will help our small team keep the website and social media feeds running through this unprecedented crisis.

When Hackney and the wider world has fought off this virus and we return to some semblance of normality, the print edition will be back.

Find out how you can donate

Thanks in advance for your support, and stay safe.