A Tory campaign manager allegedly bullied, harassed, and acted inappropriately towards at least 13 youth activists over a 20-month period, according to a long-awaited report into bullying within the Conservative Party.
Mark Clarke, who was appointed to oversee the RoadTrip2015 campaign in the run up to the 2015 general election, was investigated after youth activist Elliot Johnson, 21, took his own life in September and said Clarke’s bullying drove him to suicide in a note.
Nearly a year later, an extensive report into Clarke’s conduct published on Wednesday identified 13 alleged victims of his bullying, including six accusations of “sexually inappropriate behaviour.”
Johnson’s father, who refused to partake in the inquiry because of concerns regarding its independence, dismissed the inquiry as a whitewash. He told the Guardian: “The summary seems that we will get what we feared — a whitewash. It seems that the Tories can find the £2m for this report, but not the will to stand up and apologise for their mistakes.”
Clarke, who also refused to be interviewed for the investigation, denied all accusations listed in the report, which was conducted by London-based law firm Clifford Chance. His solicitor told the firm:
“Clarke has cooperated and will continue to cooperate with the police, the coroner and any other statutory body charged with investigating any matters relating to the subject matter of Clifford Chance’s investigation on behalf of the Conservative party board.
“The police investigation into Elliott Johnson’s death and other enquiries are ongoing, and it is not appropriate to respond to allegations until the end of those processes. However, the allegations made against Mr Clarke in the Clifford Chance report are wholly untrue and unsubstantiated. Many are based on totally fabricated media reports. All these allegations are vehemently denied.”
The RoadTrip2015 campaign involved youth activists being transported to marginal constituencies around the country to rally on behalf of the Tory party. Clarke was appointed to oversee this campaign, despite having a history of bullying allegations relating to when he stood as a parliamentary candidate in the 2010 general election.
A host of senior Conservatives, including David Cameron’s former chief press officer Lynton Crosby and former party chairman Grant Shapps, had raised concerns about Clarke’s conduct. However, Clifford Chance found no evidence that Crosby, Shapps, or other senior Tories were aware of Clarke’s alleged bullying and harassment of activists.
The final report was based on 60,000 documents and interviews with 62 individuals in an investigation that lasted seven months. Three of Clarke’s alleged victims were older members of the party. The allegations relating to sexually inappropriate behaviour included allegations that Clarke “propositioned activists or tried to kiss them,” the report says.
An official complaints procedure did not exist
The report found that the Conservative Party did not have a published procedure or official common practice for members to raise a complaint with the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ). As a result, party staff were expected to use their own discretion in dealing with complaints they received. The party has since said it will completely overhaul its complaints system and establish a “hotline” for members to report complaints.
Patrick McLoughlin, who was appointed as the party’s new chair as part of Theresa May’s arrival re-shuffle, described Johnson’s death as a “tragedy” and said the party would address the report’s findings. He said: “The death of Elliott Johnson was a tragedy and our thoughts remain with his family and friends.”
“As we address the findings of this report, I want to make clear that there can be no place for bullying behaviour in our party and we all have a responsibility to act when it occurs. The actions we are taking today will continue to ensure that volunteers, who are so vital to our party, can flourish.”
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