Wales Election 2016

UKIP race row candidate Gareth Bennett survives

Gareth Bennett Image copyright Media Wales
Image caption Gareth Bennett sparked a row when he blamed immigrants for problems with rubbish in Cardiff

UKIP has rejected calls to deselect an assembly election candidate at the centre of a race row, despite a formal complaint from 16 fellow candidates.

They called for action against UKIP's lead candidate for South Wales Central Gareth Bennett.

He had linked rubbish problems in Cardiff to Eastern European immigrants.

Meanwhile UKIP Wales head of media Alexandra Phillips is stepping down as a candidate, citing personal reasons.

Another assembly candidate for the party, Neath's Llyr Powell, has confirmed he will not be standing for election because of the decision.

Mr Bennett's fate as a candidate was discussed at a meeting of UKIP's national executive committee (NEC) on Monday.

UKIP Wales party chairman Dave Rowlands said the NEC decided to leave Mr Bennett in place as the lead candidate for South Wales Central.

Mr Rowlands said Mr Bennett has his support.

'Complete joke'

But Mr Powell, a UKIP volunteer political adviser, confirmed he would not be standing for Neath or as number four on the South Wales West list for the party following the decision.

He previously said he would not continue as a candidate if Mr Bennett was not deselected.

A separate UKIP Wales source told BBC Wales the decision by the NEC was a "complete joke".

UKIP has not officially confirmed what decision has been taken.

The formal complaint about Mr Bennett, made in a letter to UKIP chairman Steve Crowther seen by BBC Wales, said: "We believe the party should take swift and immediate disciplinary action against Mr Bennett.

"We as candidates and many members who support us are deeply considering whether UKIP really represents us."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionApril 2016: UKIP's Gareth Bennett on rubbish problems and East European immigrants in Cardiff

The complaint letter, signed by 16 candidates for the assembly and the police and crime commissioner elections, said Mr Bennett had "undermined the party and our own ability to campaign through his offensive... comments about immigrants to Wales".

It said the comments "are contrary to UKIP's fair and ethical stance on immigration", and he had "degraded our ability to campaign and connect with voters by saying it is pointless to knock on doors".

"Mr Bennett is not fit to be a lead candidate in a grassroots party where engaging the public is crucial to our success."

The South Wales Central candidate linked rubbish problems in Cardiff's City Road area to immigration in a Wales Online interview in March.

He said: "I think with some of the ethnicities that have moved in, possibly the Eastern Europeans, they just don't have any awareness of the hygiene problem that is being caused at times."

He stood by his comments in an interview with the BBC's Daily Politics programme and said he had served a draft legal letter to his party saying UKIP could face action for lost earnings of £300,000 if he were to be deselected.

Nigel Farage, party leader, said last week he was "less than impressed" with Mr Bennett.

UKIP's vetting committee met on Sunday and was due to report to the NEC meeting.

The party announced their regional lists for the assembly elections in March, but UKIP Wales leader Nathan Gill has said the candidacies were subject to a "final ongoing assessment".

Meanwhile, Ms Phillips, who was to be UKIP's number two candidate on the South Wales Central regional list behind Mr Bennett, said she would continue in her media role for the campaign, but would no longer be seeking election herself.

"I've given it a lot of thought and have decided party politics is not for me," she told BBC Wales.

"It's a personal decision - I don't want to take on a partisan role."

More on this story