‘Flouting of Conservative Party rules’ alleged in Hitchin and Harpenden

PUBLISHED: 06:58 04 July 2018 | UPDATED: 08:02 04 July 2018

A veteran Conservative activist has alleged breaches of party rules in the Hitchin and Harpenden constitutency association. File photo.

A veteran Conservative activist has alleged breaches of party rules in the Hitchin and Harpenden constitutency association. File photo.

Archant

A former Conservative committee chairman has alleged “fragrant flouting” of party rules in the Hitchin and Harpenden constituency association.

Hitchin and Harpenden Conservative Association co-chairman and former councillor David Leal-Bennett, around whom Stephen Parker's complaint centres. Picture: Danny LooHitchin and Harpenden Conservative Association co-chairman and former councillor David Leal-Bennett, around whom Stephen Parker's complaint centres. Picture: Danny Loo

Stephen Parker, who chaired the Hitchin Conservative Committee from 2006 to 2011, has called for a “full party inquiry” over the actions of Hitchin and Harpenden Conservative Association co-chairmen Matt Stephens and David Leal-Bennett.

Mr Parker alleges that former councillor Mr Leal-Bennett – who was censured by North Herts District Council in November 2016 amid allegations that he “bullied” council officers – brings the party “into disrepute”. He further claims that Mr Stephens has “flagrantly flouted party rules” by endorsing Mr Leal-Bennett as a candidate and inviting him to co-chair the association.

In a letter to Mr Stephens, seen by this paper, Mr Parker claims Mr Stephens “connived at the suppression” of evidence about Mr Leal-Bennett collated by former district council chairman Ray Shakespeare-Smith, which had been intended for forwarding upwards within the party.

“I will not be a party to concealment,” Mr Parker declares in his letter. “Your view of public service appears to be that no wrong need be righted so long as it remains hidden.”

Speaking to this paper, Mr Parker said: “Something has to be done. It is a problem in the Conservative Party, and I think the Labour Party is the same. They will not deal with a problem like this until it’s exposed.”

North Herts District Council censured Mr Leal-Bennett after its standards committee upheld five out of nine claims that he had breached the code of conduct while he was a councillor.

Mr Leal-Bennett rejected this but could not appeal as he had lost his council seat in May 2016.

Mr Stephens, who at the time was the sole chairman of the constituency Tory association, was among those who supported Mr Leal-Bennett with a written statement to the district council’s standards committee. He remained chairman while Mr Leal-Bennett ran for the Conservatives in Hitchin North during the June 2017 county council elections.

Mr Leal-Bennett has since accepted Mr Stephens’ invitation to become co-chairman of Hitchin and Harpenden Tories.

Mr Parker said he had written to the Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis about this, but that Mr Lewis had said it was “nothing to do with him”.

Mr Leal-Bennett and Hitchin and Harpenden’s Conservative MP Bim Afolami both declined to comment when contacted by this paper. Mr Stephens and the Conservative Party did not respond.

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