It was a year ago - a year ago yesterday, to be precise - that young Tory activist Elliott Johnson took his last fateful journey by train from London’s King’s Cross terminus to Sandy in Bedfordshire, then walked off the platform along the lineside, lied down between the tracks and took his own life as he was struck by a passing train. The bullying scandal that his death exposed has still not been cleared up. It may never be.
After organiser Mark Clarke was handed a lifetime ban by the party, and others were suspended, stories began to circulate suggesting the bullying and coercion of young activists was endemic. At least three male Tory MPs stand accused of using gatherings of young activists to score casual sexual encounters. Another MP almost had his relationship with a young female activist used as blackmail leverage.
But most of the press, despite their knowing the identity of the three MPs, has until now backed off from exposing them. And party chairman Patrick McLoughlin now stands accused by Elliott Johnson’s father Ray of an attempted cover-up. He wants the Tories “to release in full the findings of a report on allegations of bullying within the party”, but McLoughlin “has refused to make public the complete findings of the inquiry, on the grounds of protecting witness anonymity”. Ray Johnson is not convinced.
His latest letter to McLoughlin, one year after Elliott’s death, asserts “You say you promised confidentiality to witnesses - we say of course protect those who asked for it from the public eye but release the remainder of the information, don’t hide behind the promise to impose a blanket suppression of key evidence”.
And he adds “It should also be pointed out that not all witnesses requested anonymity and it is perfectly possible to redact personal details to ensure that the security of witnesses is protected. This attempted concealment can only heighten suspicion as to the motives of the Party, which appear to be driven more by the desire to protect itself, than to protect the identities of witnesses or ensure that justice is carried out”.
While McLoughiln has told the Johnson family “I want to reiterate my personal sorrow at Elliott’s death. I deeply regret what you as a family have been through”, and stressed that “I am fully committed to the measures set out in the summary report to ensure the complaints procedure for volunteers is clear”, he does not let slip even a hint of what the Clifford, Chance inquiry unearthed. That isn’t good enough.
The Tories have to accept that they will only close this unfortunate chapter in their history by coming clean. Those three as yet unnamed MPs should stand down immediately - not when the press decides to open their safe of pre-prepared dirt and fling it around. The organisations in and around the party involved in the Elliott Johnson affair should also be given a clean bill of health - or removed from any influence.
If Patrick McLoughlin cannot, or will not, take action, and keep control of the situation, others will take their own action, and control is the last thing he will have then. Moreover, he should not expect Ray Johnson to keep quiet and go away. It’s not over yet.