UK Politics

Tory spokesperson complained about Mark Clarke in 2008

Elliott Johnson Image copyright PA
Image caption Elliott Johnson took his own life in September after complaining of bullying by Mark Clarke

One of the Conservative Party's most senior spokespeople complained about the activist at the centre of the bullying scandal as long ago as 2008.

BBC Newsnight has learned that the party's current deputy director of communications, Richard N Jackson, complained about Mark Clarke during elections for the party's youth wing.

Mr Jackson was among a number of activists who submitted complaints about Mr Clarke, seven years before another young party supporter, Elliott Johnson, took his own life after claiming he had been bullied by Mr Clarke.

The Conservative Party insists that complaints made in 2008 were "dealt with properly". Mr Clarke has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

The party's chairman, Lord Feldman, has consistently maintained he was "wholly unaware" of bullying allegations against Mr Clarke before a slew of complaints were made in August 2015.

A party spokesperson would not say on Thursday night when Lord Feldman first became aware of the 2008 complaints, including one made by his own deputy communications chief.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Conservative party chairman Lord Feldman has maintained he was "wholly unaware" of allegations against Mr Clarke before August 2015

Newsnight has also obtained a 2008 email to Mr Jackson which alleges that Mr Clarke was "encouraging bullying" of candidates standing against one of his allies in a Conservative Future election.

It claimed he had been offering "preferential treatment" to people who supported his ally. The bullying behaviour, which the complaint said Mr Clarke was encouraging, included mocking "personal aspects of the candidates such as their appearance".

It is understood Mr Jackson submitted this complaint, as well as one of his own, to Roger Pratt, then head of discipline at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ).

Newsnight has also learned that a file on Mr Clarke was kept by CCHQ before 2009 and this file contained at least one more serious bullying allegation relating to a young woman.

A CCHQ spokesperson on Thursday night confirmed that Mr Jackson had made a complaint, and said all historic complaints against Mr Clarke were properly dealt with.

Since Elliott Johnson took his life in September, leaving a letter naming Mr Clarke, the Conservative Party has been engulfed by claims that it failed to act properly on complaints about bullying behaviour by Mr Clarke.

On 18 November the party issued a statement saying: "We have been checking and rechecking, but have not been able to find any records of complaints that were made but not dealt with - but we are determined to get to the bottom of what's happened."

The party maintained on Thursday night that this denial referred only to allegations about Mr Clarke during the period between 2014 and 2015 when he ran RoadTrip, a CCHQ backed organisation which bussed young volunteers to campaign in target seats.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mark Clarke (front row, second from the right) is at the centre of a bullying scandal - he denies all the allegations. Grant Shapps, speaking, has resigned over the scandal

One of the activists who complained about Mr Clarke in 2008 was Patrick Sullivan, who now runs a Conservative supporting think tank.

Mr Sullivan told Newsnight on Tuesday that a "dossier" of allegations against a number of activists, including Mr Clarke, was later handed to Tory chairman Lord Feldman in 2010 by the MP Ben Howlett.

The party has vigorously denied that any such document existed, maintaining that it cannot find a record of it, and that neither Lord Feldman nor his then co-chair, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, can remember it.

Mr Sullivan told Newsnight: "We would very much like more victims to speak out and explain what has happened. I understand how difficult it is to come forward and they are afraid. But unless a light is shone on this culture of bullying it will just continue."

"Politics doesn't only attract confident people," he continued. "It also attracts vulnerable people looking for a sense of belonging. Those people need to be taken care of and treated well. And the Conservative Party does have a duty of care - any party does - to its activists."

More on this story

Activist says Tory chairman given bullying dossier in 2010

Memo warned Tory bully 'dangerous'

Ministers pull out of conference amid bullying scandal

Listen: Mark Clarke profile for Radio 4

Tory 'bully' was backed by party bosses

Tories 'failed to act' on 'institutionalised bullying'

Watch: Newsnight investigation into Tory bullying allegations

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