A candidate for the Liberal Democrats in the upcoming local elections made "extremely offensive" comments about race to Bim Afolami, the MP for Hitchin and Harpenden.

Richard Scott, who is standing to become a councillor for Harpenden North ward in this Thursday's election, had a complaint about him upheld by an internal Liberal Democrats panel.

In a report seen by the Herts Advertiser, the three-person panel found that Mr Scott's comments about Mr Afolami "weaponising race" were "extremely offensive and dismissive".

The panellists reprimanded Mr Scott for his comments, which "brought the party into disrepute". Their report also said that Mr Scott "would benefit from unconscious bias training, which should be provided by the party".

Panellists concluded that Mr Scott "revealed no regret and a worrying lack of insight into how offensive his actions and words were".

The incident followed an article Mr Afolami had written for the Mail on Sunday in October 2020.

In the article, Mr Afolami wrote about his experiences of racism and referred to comments made on a Facebook page moderated by Mr Scott.

These included suggestions that Mr Afolami was "a traitor to his race" and that he lacked the "self-awareness to see that he is being used".

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Mr Afolami alleged that the comments were made by a local Liberal Democrat activist, and he criticised elected Liberal Democrats in the group for not objecting to the comments.

In response to Mr Afolami's article, Mr Scott wrote a letter to the Herts Advertiser, in which he said that "the real motivation behind Bim's article is clear: to weaponise Black History Month".

Mr Scott echoed that sentiment in now-deleted tweets, including:

  • "It's clear the Conservatives are weaponising race to deflect attention from their disastrous handling of Covid, their PPE corruption, and the FSM [free school meals] backlash. In short: criticise any of their BAME MPs and you are either a 'conceited liberal' or a 'patronising leftie'. Desperate."
  • "... Bim's ... weaponizing of Black History Month ...?"
  • "Will the Conservative Party campaign to weaponize race come to an end once #Black History Month ends? Or is this the opening phase of a new post-Brexit culture war against 'conceited liberals' and 'patronising lefties'? Anything to deflect attention from Covid, FSM and Brexit …"

Herts Advertiser: Richard Scott (left) co-founded Harpenden for Europe, and is pictured here meeting Bim Afolami MP (centre) to discuss Brexit in 2018.Richard Scott (left) co-founded Harpenden for Europe, and is pictured here meeting Bim Afolami MP (centre) to discuss Brexit in 2018. (Image: Archant)

Following the letter and tweets, Mr Afolami submitted a formal complaint to the Liberal Democrats.

A hearing was held in May 2021, conducted by a three-person panel composed of party members. Two of the panellists are current councillors in other areas of the country.

According to the report of that hearing, seen by the Herts Advertiser, Mr Scott "denied that his remarks were racist" and "twice reiterated that he was troubled that a white man was not able to challenge a black person re. race".

Herts Advertiser: A formal complaint about the comments was made by Bim Afolami, the MP for Hitchin & Harpenden.A formal complaint about the comments was made by Bim Afolami, the MP for Hitchin & Harpenden. (Image: HM Government)

At the time of the incident, Mr Scott apologised for failing to delete the comments referred to in Mr Afolami's Mail on Sunday article.

However, he has not apologised for the comments that were found to be "extremely offensive" by the complaints panel.

Mr Scott responded to this article, stating: "Following receipt of a complaint against me by Bim Afolami MP in 2020, I accepted the resulting findings of the Liberal Democrat party's complaints procedure.

"I was not required by the party's complaints panel to apologise to Mr Afolami. I have since voluntarily completed training regarding unconscious bias awareness."

Cllr Paul de Kort, chair of the Harpenden branch of the Liberal Democrats, told us that he was aware of the complaint made against Mr Scott and the conclusions drawn by the complaints panel.

When asked whether he agreed with the panel's conclusions, Cllr de Kort said: "This is not something for me to comment on as the local branch had no part in this process."

When asked why Mr Scott was chosen as a candidate, Cllr de Kort said: "Richard has a long-standing, positive involvement in Harpenden community affairs.

"He has led local campaigns that have attracted wide and very diverse support [emphasis in original statement].

"The panel did not recommend any sanction that prevented him standing as a candidate of ours in the future."

Responding to this article, Mr Afolami said: "The Liberal Democrats found that Mr Scott had not only made offensive comments on race, but also that he demonstrated a worrying lack of insight into the offensiveness of the comments he made.

"Now they consider him to be a fit and proper person to represent Harpenden - local people will have to decide whether they agree."