07 October 2013
Andy Burnham considers defamation suit against Jeremy Hunt
Labour shadow health secretary Jeremy Hunt has revealed he is considering legal action against Jeremy Hunt.
Mr Hunt, who is the current secretary of state for health under the coalition government, sent out a tweet alleging Mr Burnham covered up failing hospitals during his time at the Department of Health's helm between June 2009 and May 2010.
It is thought the tweet referred to failures at the Stafford Hospital and Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, with both put under substantial media pressure following a spate of medical negligence lawsuits and high mortality rates.
But Mr Burnham has refuted these allegations and published a long editorial piece on the Labour List website outlining his disgust at the Conservative lawmaker's comments.
"It was claimed I had ignored a letter from Professor Brian Jarman providing a list of hospitals with high deaths rates. Not true," Mr Burnham explained.
In fact, so appalled is the Labour shadow cabinet member about this alleged falsehood perpetrated by Mr Hunt, he is taking legal advice about a potential defamation suit, which would be unprecedented in the modern political era.
While Mr Burnham has said an apology and retraction would suffice in avoiding a potentially lengthy trial, it is unlikely Mr Hunt would allow for such a drastic climbdown as this would be embarrassing and harmful to his chances of leading the Conservatives in the future, which is widely believed to be the politician's career goal.
In response to the threat of a writ, a Conservative source told a BBC political correspondent: "It's astonishing that Labour are still trying to deny the clear link between the Care Quality Commission's (CQC) decision not to expose poor hospital care under the last government and the political pressure applied to the CQC by Labour ministers."
It is unclear when Mr Burnham will make a final decision as to whether he will take legal action, but the coming few weeks could potentially make political and legal history if the Labour shadow minister presses ahead.
By Chris Stevenson