UK Politics

Conservative 'bullying': Law firm Clifford Chance to carry out investigation

Mark Clarke Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Mark Clarke ran RoadTrip which took young activists around the country during the election

An investigation into bullying allegations and the death of a young Conservative Party activist will be carried out entirely by a law firm.

The party said none of its officials would be involved except as witnesses and that crossbench peer Lord Pannick would review the investigation.

It follows criticism of the original internal inquiry overseen by a lawyer.

Claims of bullying have centred around former youth campaign organiser Mark Clarke, who denies any wrongdoing.

Minister Grant Shapps resigned at the weekend and there appears to be growing pressure on the position of party chairman Lord Feldman.

Some Conservative MPs have told the BBC the peer, partly responsible for having given Mr Clarke a formal role in campaigning, must now stand down.


Analysis

By Ross Hawkins, BBC political correspondent

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Lord Feldman is under pressure following the resignation of Grant Shapps

Lord Feldman was one of four officials who agreed to give Mark Clarke a formal role in the Conservative election campaign. One of the four - Grant Shapps - has resigned. Among those not calling for Lord Feldman to quit immediately, there is limited sympathy.

While some believe he has been unfairly targeted, the Tory's chairman's decades-long friendship with his tennis partner and Oxford college May Ball committee colleague David Cameron is a double-edged sword.

Close friends of the PM's are not necessarily bosom buddies of the Parliamentary party. Well-connected MPs say the PM's man won't have much support among Tory colleagues as things hot up.

Lord Feldman: The key questions


The party released a statement after a board meeting, saying it was "determined to establish the truth" in relation to events surrounding the death of 21-year-old Elliott Johnson and the activities of Mr Clarke, who ran a campaigning initiative called RoadTrip which bussed young volunteers around the country.

It said that from Tuesday, the investigation would be carried out "in its entirety" by Clifford Chance.

The law firm will review all the interviews already carried out by Conservative officials, it said, and give people the option to be reinterviewed.

On Sunday the party said more than 40 written statements had been taken.

Lord Feldman chairs the party board of the most senior figures in the Conservative hierarchy which will discuss the allegations.

But the Conservatives say he will not feature in the board meeting that considers the Clifford Chance report.

Mr Shapps resigned as international development minister over allegations that, while party co-chairman, he failed to act on claims of bullying.


Who's who: The key figures

  • Mark Clarke: Once tipped as a rising star, the former youth organiser has now been expelled from the Conservative Party over bullying allegations. He strongly refutes all allegations against him
  • Elliott Johnson: The Conservative Party member died in an apparent suicide in September, having claimed he was being bullied by Mr Clarke. His father has called for an external inquiry
  • Lord Feldman: The Conservative Party chairman, a close friend of David Cameron, was co-chairman with Grant Shapps until the election, and one of four officials who agreed to give Mark Clarke a formal role in the Conservative election campaign
  • Grant Shapps: The former co-chairman resigned as a government minister on Saturday, saying the "buck should stop with me"

Mr Clarke had been struck off a list of approved Tory election candidates after complaints were made about his behaviour in 2010 and in his letter, Mr Shapps acknowledged having given him a "second chance" by appointing him to run the party's RoadTrip campaign which took young activists around the country during the election.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Paul Goodman, the former Tory MP who edits the influential ConservativeHome website, said Lord Feldman's position was "not tenable".

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Media captionElliott Johnson's father: "I'm glad that Grant Shapps resigned"

Mr Goodman said it was "simply not persuasive that the buck stops with [Grant] Shapps" because the decision to appoint Mr Clarke was signed off by the party's senior management team - which included Lord Feldman as the "senior chairman".

Chancellor George Osborne said Lord Feldman was an "outstanding party chairman and a person of real integrity".

Speaking on a visit to Crewe, Mr Osborne said an inquiry was taking place because "we're going to get to the bottom of what happened to this poor person Elliott Johnson".

Before his death in September, Mr Johnson had complained to Conservative Central Office that Mr Clarke had threatened to destroy his career. He also named Mr Clarke in a letter found by his parents after his death.

Mr Clarke has rejected allegations of bullying, sexual assault and intimidation. He has since been expelled from the party.

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