CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Conservative election candidate ‘forced to step down’ threatens party with legal action

Hamish Hunter says his complaint has not been properly investigated by 'poisonous' local association

20 September, 2018

Hamish Hunter

A FORMER election contender is threatening legal action against the Conservative Party after claiming he was unfairly forced to step down as one of its council election candidates.

Hamish Hunter made an official complaint to the local association in Hampstead and Kilburn over the way his departure from the council election campaign was handled. He says he was forced to resign while suffering from depression; organisers say he volunteered his resignation.

The New Journal can reveal the party held an internal investigation into Mr Hunter’s grievances over the summer before finding that he had resigned during a phone call to campaign agent David Douglas and this had been accepted. But Mr Hunter, a lawyer, says this conversation was misconstrued and that the party’s investigation did not ask him to provide an account of what was said. The phone call took place after a party fundraiser featuring former employment secretary Priti Patel.

“It is not possible for anyone seeking to establish the facts to be satisfied of an event by only hearing one person’s account,” Mr Hunter said in a letter sent last night (Wednesday) to party chairwoman Kirsty Roberts. “The obviously improper process adopted for investigating my complaint would make the most brazen of kangaroo courts blush.”

Mr Hunter was told of the conclusion at a meeting last month but says he resolved to challenge the findings. He warned this could include taking legal action, which he said would expose that the rulebook was not followed. The case could shine a light on how well equipped political parties are to working with candidates who have mental health problems such as depression, as well opening up the possibility of behind-the-scenes ex­changes coming into public view.

He has told organisers that he had been prepared for the matter to be resolved internally and in private until the investigation’s findings, but now had to take a different tack. He described his treatment as “brutal” and said that he needed to pursue his case because he had to stop the association having “reckless disregard” for the mental health of other members and candidates. “I will not stand by and do nothing while such a toxic, poisonous organisation is allowed to go unchecked,” he said.

Mr Hunter spoke of his struggles with depression openly in May, saying that he “fell through the floor” after his name came off the candidate list. His departure in February was explained at the time as a voluntarily resignation. He was replaced on the ballot paper by Maria Higson, who went on to be one of three wining Tory candidates at the local polls. But Mr Hunter says he was told at the time that, as a way of preserving his reputation, he should step down or face being deselected. He has argued that any move to remove a candidate on the basis that they are suffering from depression could breach party rules and the law.

The association said it could not comment on the case.

l Useful contacts: MIND, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393; Samaritans’ confidential, free, 24-hour helpline at 116 123; SANE, 0300 304 7000 (daily, 4.30-10.30pm), www. sane.org.uk/textcare; NHS advice recommends making an appointment with your GP if you think you may be suffering from depression.

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