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London Mayor Ken Livingstone won his appeal Thursday against a disciplinary panel ruling that said he had brought his office into disrepute by comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi camp guard.
High Court Justice Andrew Collins, who had already quashed a four-week suspension from office the panel imposed on Livingstone, said the remark was offensive but that the mayor had the right to express his views "as forcibly as he thought fit."
"Surprising as it may perhaps appear to some, the right of freedom of speech does extend to abuse," Collins said in overturning the Adjudication Panel for England's finding.
The panel ruled in February that the two-term mayor was guilty of making remarks that were "unnecessarily insensitive and offensive" and ordered him suspended from his job for four weeks.
Livingstone has denied any intention of offending the Jewish community when, in a testy conversation last year, he asked Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold whether he had been a "German war criminal."
Collins said the mayor's comments amounted to "offensive abuse" and that it was indefensible that even after Finegold said he was Jewish, Livingstone went on to liken him to a concentration camp guard.
"He should have realized it would not only give great offense to him but was likely to be regarded as an entirely inappropriate observation by Jews in general, and those who had survived the Holocaust in particular," the judge said.
He also said Livingstone should have apologized for the hurt he had caused and could probably have avoided disciplinary action had he done so.
However, Collins said that since Livingstone had been off duty when he made the remarks, the panel was wrong to rule that they had reflected on his office.
"There is a danger in regarding any misconduct as particularly affecting the reputation of the office rather than the man," the judge said.
Livingstone said after the verdict that he was not anti-Semitic and would have apologized if the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which filed a complaint about his comment, had asked him to.
"I think it is an incredibly sensible judgment," he said. "It brings a lot of common sense to approaching the balance between freedom of speech and the various roles of the authorities in all of this."