On the spot - Tim Russo.
US sex offender worked in UK election campaign
Nearly four years after the 2005 General Election the BBC has revealed how American Tim Russo, a convicted sex offender, was working illegally for the Labour Party in the East Midlands during the campaign.
Inside Out reporter Alistair Jackson travelled to Cleveland, Ohio to interview Russo after spending six months investigating the story.
Alistair takes up the story...
I arrived in Cleveland two days before the Presidential election.
When I asked the receptionist of my hotel why a stage was being put up outside the entrance she looked at me as if I had arrived from Mars rather than London.
It was for Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama – I had stumbled into one of the major events of the last days of the ground breaking Presidential race.
Standing amongst the world’s media at the rally the next day it was easy to get an idea of the political world from which Tim Russo had emerged.
Russo (on right of picture) meeting Neil Kinnock
Hundreds of political activists busied themselves making sure the campaign would not implode at the last minute.
Russo had been in the ranks of Clinton’s helpers a decade before.
It must have been his experience of this kind of campaigning that had first attracted the Labour Party to his CV.
Meeting Tim Russo
When my interview with Russo got underway later that week my first question was a simple one:
"What did you think when I got in touch?"
His answer was a telling, "What took you so long?"
For nearly four years he’d been expecting his story to come out in Britain.
Normally people in his situation would run away from the camera.
Russo appeared to embrace it. He sat down. He talked.
For that he deserves credit.
But it was soon clear we saw things differently.
The real story?
For him our approach was an opportunity to articulate a passionate plea for people like him to be allowed to put their past behind them.
This is certainly an important issue but our story was more focused than that.
How had a person like him – an American sex offender – ended up intricately involved in Britain’s democratic process?
We knew he’d been paid by Labour.
Russo's invoice to the Labour Party
We knew he should have had a work visa.
We knew the Labour Party should have got a work permit.
We even presented him with the invoice he’d lodged with Labour.
But this, he insisted, was not the real story.
We should be more interested in how he’d been treated after he’d pleaded guilty and paid a penalty.
How did it happen?
Russo talked at length about his involvement in Labour’s election campaign.
He’d arranged visits to the region for the then Home Secretary, he told me he was valuable to Labour because he wasn’t afraid of falling out with people – a quality he said was needed in the heat of election battle.
Labour may now be regretting signing up to those attributes.
Now it’s up to them, rather than Tim Russo himself, to explain how he ended up working for them in Nottingham.
Statement from the Labour Party
The Labour Party has issued the following statement in response to the Inside Out film:
"Tim Russo has never been employed by the Labour Party or any Labour MPs and as a visitor to the UK, visa arrangements were a matter for Mr Russo.
"The Labour Party, especially at election times, along with all other major political parties, have volunteers helping in campaigns and volunteering their consultancy services. Sometimes reasonable expenses are provided in these cases.
"The Labour Party or any Labour MP were totally unaware of any convictions associated with Mr Russo at any time that he helped the Party and if we had known of this conviction then the offer of his help would have been refused.
"The Labour Party had taken legal advice and the party's view is that in Mr Russo's case and on the separate issue of paid consultants the party has always acted within the law. Any suggestion otherwise is entirely false.
"It is not unusual for political parties to place contracts with companies or individuals for political or polling advice and it is entirely proper for contracted consultants to visit their clients and update them on their work."
last updated: 21/01/2009 at 12:44