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Probe launched into death of UK Jewish academic after Twitter antisemitism ‘pile-on’

Friends and family say Peter Newbon was ‘under pressure’ after children’s author Michael Rosen retweeted image he made mocking ex-Labour head Corbyn, calling it ‘loathsome’

Peter Newbon and his wife Rachel Hewitt.  (Twitter)
Peter Newbon and his wife Rachel Hewitt. (Twitter)

The recent death of a UK-Jewish academic, who was “remorselessly bullied” on social media after being accused of antisemitism by Jewish children’s author Michael Rosen, is being investigated by a coroner.

Peter Newbon, 38, died earlier this month in the wake of a Twitter “pile-on” that had left him feeling under pressure, his friends said, according to The Daily Telegraph.

The newspaper reported last week that Newbon was suing Rosen for libel after the author accused him of antisemitism in a social media post to his 250,000 followers and to the English academic’s university.

Newbon, who was a director of Labour Against Antisemitism, re-posted a doctored image of Jeremy Corbyn reading a book to schoolchildren.

The original image had the former Labour party leader reading “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” one of the best-selling children’s books in the UK of all time, written by Rosen.

The doctored image, however, showed Corbyn holding the “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” an antisemitic hoax document that claims Jews are plotting world domination. Newbon had intended it to be satirical criticism of Corbyn, who had long been accused of failing to tackle rampant antisemitism in the Labour party.

Author Michael Rosen. (Courtesy: Michael Rosen)

Rosen, a vocal supporter of Corbyn who was upset by the doctored image of his book, responded on Twitter.

“If someone called Peter Newbon is on your payroll, this is to inform you that he’s superimposed the phrase ‘The Protocols of Zion’ over a page from We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by me and Helen Oxenbury. This is a loathsome and anti-Semitic thing to do,” Rosen said.

According to the report, Rosen’s tweet prompted some 4,000 complaints to Newbon’s employer, Northumbria University, which began disciplinary proceedings against him.

Corbyn also condemned the doctored image, saying in a tweet that he was “saddened that someone has manipulated an image” of the book “to suggest I would share this disgusting antisemitic falsehood.”

Newbon’s lawyers lodged a libel claim against Rosen, in which they said: “The making of an allegation of racism to the defendant’s [Rosen’s] followers and beyond incited what is known on Twitter as a ‘pile on’ against the claimant [Newbon].”

Former Britain’s Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to the media on the coronavirus, outside the Finsbury Park Jobcentre, in north London, March 15, 2020. (Hollie Adams/PA via AP)

The claim went on to allege that “The aim of the pile on was to cancel the claimant, that is to cause him to be ostracised by telling people that he was a racist and/or had committed a racist act.”

Lawyer Simon Myerson, who was acting for Newbon in a separate case in which he was being sued — and which was reportedly also causing him deep upset — posted on Twitter: “Pete Newbon is dead. It’s devastating. Those who remorselessly bullied him on here neither represent, nor I suspect understand, the love and friendship he inspired.”

His wife Rachel Hewit tweeted last Tuesday: “Pete Newbon was my best friend, my partner-in-crime, my beautiful kind husband, a brilliant reader & scholar, the best daddy in the world to our three beautiful daughters, and I just don’t know how we’re going to bear his loss. I’m broken into a million unbearably painful pieces.”

Fiona Sharpe, spokesman for Labour Against Antisemitism, said: “Words cannot express the sadness we are all feeling at his death.”

The North Yorkshire and York coroner court is due to open an inquest at a later date.

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