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Former Tory election candidate has deselection legal claims struck out

High Court master says case appeared like a 'campaign or vendetta' against Conservative group leader

14 May, 2020 — By Richard Osley

Hamish Hunter

A LAWYER who claims he was unfairly removed as a council election candidate by the Conservative Party has had his case thrown out at the High Court and told that his action appeared to be a “vendetta” against a former running mate.

In a case which has caused four years of turmoil in the local association in Hampstead and Kilburn, Hamish Hunter had attempted to sue after he was replaced on the ballot paper before the 2018 local elections.

He claims he was removed in a “secret intervention” after falling ill with depression and opened legal action against six local members starting with group leader Oliver Cooper. The legal action was also brought against the Hampstead and Kilburn Conservative Association with a claim that equality and contract law had been breached.

He said his internal complaint had not been handled properly and he case had led to his mental health getting worse.

But on Thursday, a judgment halted the case with a decision that it should not go to a full hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice, as Mr Hunter had sought. Senior master Barbara Fontaine ruled that his action “very much suggests that the issue of these proceedings was part of a campaign or vendetta against the first defendant rather than to achieve vindication of his reputation.”

The judgment follows a day-long hearing at the High Court, before the coronavirus outbreak, in February.

Bundles of evidence revealed that Mr Hunter had contacted local Tory associations in several constituencies outside of London pointing them to the proceedings ahead of candidate selections.

The messages were sent to areas where Mr Cooper was rumoured to be interested in standing at December’s general election.

He was not shortlisted in any of them. Defence lawyers had argued in court that the proceedings had been designed to secure greater publicity against Mr Cooper.

In response to the claims, they argued it was Mr Hunter who had been “harassing” Mr Cooper by threatening to release private WhatsApp messages from times when they were on friendly terms and campaigning together. They included disparaging remarks about party colleagues. Some did appear in public view on social media.

The pair had been friends and Mr Hunter regarded himself as on Mr Cooper’s “team”, backing his ambition to be the local group leader. But they later fell out and it was claimed in the court documents that Mr Cooper believed Mr Hunter had become “romantically obsessed” with him.

Mr Cooper said he told him that he was not interested in other men sexually. Mr Hunter responded to this in one of his statements by saying: “This contrasts with his conduct during our friendship when he would make jokes about his sexuality.”

Mr Hunter has talked openly about his problems with depression since his departure from local politics. At one stage, he had said a remedy to the case would have been for a by-election to have been called and for him to get a new chance to stand as a council candidate again.

His replacement at the 2018 elections, Maria Higson, had gone on to win the seat in Hampstead Town, one of only two ‘safe’ wards for the Conservatives.

Ms Higson had been included among the defendants, but the judgment questioned why she and Gio Spinella, also a serving councillor, had been pursued.

“It is unnecessary and disproportionate to identify six members out of the whole Association for a representative claim,” the judgment said.

In a separate claim, Mr Hunter said he had been defamed by Mr Cooper in a pub conversation in which the group leader said Mr Hunter had threatened to stab him with a knife.

This claim was also rejected. And Senior Master Fontaine said Mr Hunter, as a barrister, should have known his case was not suitable for the High Court and that he had acted “without any proper exercise of judgment or consideration of proportionality.”

Mr Hunter had represented himself in court and said his own line of law was different from this case and it was a simple mistake not to apply to the county court.

Oliver Cooper

Later in the judgment, Senior Master Fontaine said: “I have concluded that there is sufficient evidence of an improper dominant purpose, namely to prevent the first defendant from becoming a successful candidate to stand at the next general election.” Mr Hunter faces a costs order to be set at a future hearing.

A spokesperson for the Conservative Association said: “We are pleased that all of Mr Hunter’s claims have been struck out by the High Court. This decision made by a senior judge after thorough scrutiny, enables us to continue to focus all our efforts on working hard for local residents and businesses.”

Mr Hunter said: “I have been lucky to have had great support from friends, family and loved ones through this. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of them for standing by me and standing up for me, especially those who did so (both openly and covertly) from within the Hampstead and Kilburn Conservatives.”

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