UK Politics

UKIP's Bird v Bolter row: What do we know?

Roger Bird, Natasha Bolter Image copyright Other

It is a story where he says one thing, she says another and an uncomfortable spotlight falls on a party that would much rather be talking about something else.

It is a scenario that could happen anywhere: the apparent frailties of human nature, played out in the workplace.

But the reality is that this scenario, this time, involves UKIP.

What we have seen, read and heard in the last 48 hours is what scrutiny looks like for a party on the rise.

There are two central, unanswered questions:

Firstly, did Roger Bird, the currently suspended general secretary of the party and a former Conservative councillor, sexually harass Natasha Bolter, a recent recruit from Labour hoping to stand for UKIP at the general election?

Secondly, did his actions amount to an abuse of his position?

He strongly denies both allegations.

So what do we know?

Plenty of the central facts are disputed, but here goes.

I understand Roger Bird, who is also UKIP's Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Cities of London and Westminster, first met Natasha Bolter on Wednesday 10 September.

He met her to conduct a test as part of her assessment to become a UKIP parliamentary candidate.

She failed that test and so they met again that evening at the Oxford and Cambridge private members club in central London so she could re-take the test.

The day after, Thursday 11 September, Ms Bolter became an approved UKIP parliamentary candidate, leaving her free to apply for the nomination to be UKIP's candidate in constituencies she deemed suitable.

Image copyright PA

Shortly afterwards, Roger Bird claims he began a consensual sexual relationship with Natasha Bolter, something she denies.

"There was certainly no sexual harassment in it. We were in a relationship briefly and that relationship developed well after she had been admitted to the approved candidates list, so her selection was not connected to that and so far she has not been selected for any seats," Mr Bird told me.

I understand he offered Ms Bolter mentoring support, including re-drafting her speech to UKIP's conference in Doncaster at the end of the month.

On Friday 26 September, Roger Bird was chairing proceedings at UKIP's conference in Doncaster.

He introduced Natasha Bolter to the stage, where her speech was greeted with cheers and applause.

Mr Bird says the relationship with Ms Bolter continued for around another month after the conference, but has now ended.

Natasha Bolter denies any such relationship ever happened, which has prompted Mr Bird to hand text messages he says he received from Ms Bolter to me and other journalists.

Sep 27 09.48: "R u still cool with me leaving suitcase here and coming home with u? Xx"

Oct 14, 09.31: "U r a really great mentor bird"

Oct 19, 21.09: "...PS thanks u for 2nd chance but will probably screw it up!"

Oct 28, 19.20: "'s so lovely to hear from u x"

Oct 30, 18.12: "I am really looking forward to c bird x"

Nov 1, 09.27: "But I love u and miss u and think u r sort of perfect..."

Nov 2, 23.45: "I love u bird and wish u let me look after u. Hope u feel better xx"

Nov 6, 00.24: "U r not coming back and accordingly my life will go back to a meaningless void and it was chance that I met u. But I didn't invent u - u were real..."

Nov 6, 19.05: "I have sang you praises to Nigel for 12 minutes"

Nov 9, 17.26: "I am really missing u bird..."

The text messages do suggest the two were close, but don't definitively prove they were in a sexual relationship.

So what does Natasha Bolter have to say?

She insists she never slept with Roger Bird.

So one of them is lying.

In her interview with BBC Newsnight, she was asked directly, did Roger Bird proposition her?

"Yes," she said, adding: "But when I said no, nothing happened. I think he is a gentleman. I never felt scared of him, I just felt pressured that if I maybe did the right thing, my career would go faster and further."

"He wasn't taking me seriously as a candidate, he was looking at me as a sex object," she added, claiming "if I had slept with him, I think I would probably have had an easier time in UKIP".

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionNatasha Bolter tells Newsnight "I did not sleep with Roger Bird"

"I know he is lying, no doubt. Because, I did not sleep with Roger Bird, end of," she said.

"Yes she did," Roger Bird told me.

Her interview with Newsnight was recorded before Mr Bird handed me a record of his text messages, but the interviewer, Tom Mangold, did ask about any records of their communications.

"There are texts between us, often I send a kiss after a text, I think that is a girl thing to do, I don't think that is particularly intimate," Ms Bolter told him.

Next: what has UKIP as a party and as an employer done about all this?

They are at pains to point out they have acted quickly and decisively throughout, desperate to shed any perception of being amateurish or condoning serious allegations.

I'm told they first became aware of the allegations on Wednesday 5th November, three days after Natasha Bolter told Roger Bird "I love u" and the day before she sent him a text saying their break up meant "my life will go back to a meaningless void".

The following Tuesday Ms Bolter met a senior party official and made her allegations.

UKIP regarded them as sufficiently serious to refer them an external Human Resources Consultant.

The consultancy drew up a draft report which was handed to UKIP last Sunday, 7 December.

When UKIP officials read the report, Roger Bird was immediately suspended.

The case will now be examined by an internal party disciplinary committee, which will decide what to do about it before Christmas and possibly within the coming days.

Roger Bird maintains he behaved properly and claims his evidence proves he is telling the truth.

He is currently suspended from his post as General Secretary on full pay.

Natasha Bolter says Roger Bird acted inappropriately.

Some sources within UKIP agree.

UKIP, a party plagued by internal turbulence and infighting for much of its life, aches to be seen as anti-establishment yes, but professional too.

So what will it do next?

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