Tatler Tory storm rocks Baroness

Party hands bul­ly­ing in­quiry to law firm – but the chair­man is still in the fir­ing line

Daily Mail - - Front Page - By James Slack, Jack Doyle and An­drew Levy j.slack@dai­ly­mail.co.uk

TORY bosses last night fi­nally caved in and or­dered an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry into the ‘Tatler Tory’ scan­dal, amid a fran­tic at­tempt to save the job of party chair­man Lord Feld­man.

Af­ter cri­sis talks last­ing more than two hours, the Con­ser­va­tive Party Board said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Mark Clarke af­fair would now be con­ducted ‘in its en­tirety’ by Lon­don law firm Clif­ford Chance.

The dam­ag­ing sex, black­mail and bul­ly­ing scan­dal has en­gulfed the Tories. No date has been fixed for the report’s pub­li­ca­tion fol­low­ing yes­ter­day’s meet­ing – which was chaired by Lord Feld­man, who is deeply em­broiled in the saga and un­der pres­sure to quit.

Gra­ham Brady, chair­man of the 1922 com­mit­tee of Tory back­benchers, who sits on the board, said Lord Feld­man’s po­si­tion was not dis­cussed de­spite some Tory MPs pri­vately call­ing for him to go. Ray John­son, whose 21-year- old son El­liott took his life in Septem­ber af­ter al­legedly be­ing bul­lied by Clarke, said he still feared a ‘white­wash’ and re­mained adamant that Lord Feld­man should re­sign.

‘The fact that this in­quiry is now in­de­pen­dent or not is ir­rel­e­vant to the fact Lord Feld­man was in charge when my son was be­ing bul­lied, in­tim­i­dated and ul­ti­mately died,’ he said. He de­manded guar­an­tees there were no in­ap­pro­pri­ate links be­tween the Tories and Clif­ford Chance, which will be paid hun­dreds of thou­sands of pounds.

He also voiced alarm the Tory Party had left it­self ‘wrig­gle room’ to redact sen­si­tive sec­tions of the report into al­leged bul­ly­ing, black­mail and sex ha­rass­ment in­side its youth wing, Con­ser­va­tive Fu­ture. The in­quiry was an­nounced as: Al­lies of Lord Feld­man de­nied he had been warned about Clarke’s be­hav­iour a year ago in a memo by a se­nior aide to former co-chair­man Grant Shapps

Tory MPs launched a co- ordi- nated cam­paign to keep the Prime Min­is­ter’s close ally in his job

A let­ter emerged show­ing how Ray John­son had crit­i­cised the de­ci­sion, shortly af­ter his son’s death, to ap­point Baroness Pid­ding – a close con­fi­dent of Clarke – as a life peer.

The an­nounce­ment of the in­de­pen­dent in­quiry was seen an at­tempt by the Tory high com­mand to take the pres­sure off Lord Feld­man, who Num­ber 10 is de­ter­mined not to lose. Se­nior fig­ures have been alarmed that the res­ig­na­tion of Mr Shapps, who stood down at the week­end over claims he failed to act on bul­ly­ing at Con­ser­va­tive Fu­ture, has not taken the heat out of the scan­dal.

In­stead, the fo­cus has shifted to what Lord Feld­man knew about claims of bul­ly­ing by Clarke, who is known as the Tatler Tory be­cause the mag­a­zine once tipped him as a fu­ture Cabi­net min­is­ter and who denies any wrong­do­ing. Some se­nior Tories be­lieve that, as chair­man at the time of El­liott John­son’s death, the buck stops with him and his po­si­tion is un­ten­able.

On Sun­day, the party had been de­fend­ing its de­ci­sion to hold an in­ter­nal in­quiry into the scan­dal. At that stage, Clif­ford Chance was only to re­view the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

How­ever, last night the party said it was hand­ing over the in­quiry in its en­tirety to Clif­ford Chance. Lord Pan­nick, a cross-bench peer, will over­see it. Party bosses added that Lord Feld­man and deputy chair­man Rob Hal­fon – who Clarke al­legedly tried to black­mail over an af­fair he was hav­ing with a Tory ac­tivist – will ex­cuse them­selves from the board meet­ing when it con­sid­ers the find­ings.

Sources at the meet­ing said Lord Feld­man de­nied know­ing about claims of Clarke’s be­hav­iour be­fore this sum­mer.

One in­sider said if ev­i­dence was found to the con­trary he would have no op­tion but to re­sign. The source added: ‘ Fun­da­men­tally if this report finds that isn’t true, the way for­ward would be ob­vi­ous.

In a state­ment, the party said: ‘The board would like to ex­press its pro­found re­gret at the tragic death of El­liott John­son and sends its deep­est con­do­lences to his fam­ily and friends. The board wishes to en­sure that its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into events sur­round­ing El­liott’s death and the al­leged ac­tiv­i­ties of

‘He was in charge when my son died’

Mark Clarke and oth­ers is, and is seen to be, timely, ob­jec­tive, and com­pre­hen­sive and in­de­pen­dent.’

Around a dozen ac­tivists and wit­nesses had given ev­i­dence to the in­ter­nal in­quiry. They will now be given the chance to give ev­i­dence again to Clif­ford Chance.

There are a se­ries of known links be­tween Clif­ford Chance and the Tories. In 2012, it spon­sored a party con­fer­ence event and has also spon­sored Re­form, the po­lit­i­cal think tank set up by Tory MP Nick Her­bert.

Last night Clif­ford Chance said it had also spon­sored events at Labour and Lib Dem con­fer­ences.

‘The way for­ward would be ob­vi­ous’

Bul­ly­ing scan­dal: Mark Clarke with Baroness Pid­ding

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