Following the pre-inquest hearing last week into the death of young activist Elliott Johnson, Tom Osborne, who is senior coroner for Bedfordshire and Luton, gave his ruling yesterday on the scope of the inquest. This was immediately seized upon by the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, who are very obviously batting for their pals in the Tory Party. The spin was palpable.
they announced triumphantly, concluding that this was “A major development”. However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, there was more to the ruling than that.
While Osborne did say of the Johnson family’s request he call Mark Clarke and André Walker that the “allegation against them is a blunt one of bullying and betrayal. It is difficult to see that, beyond the assertions made by the deceased in his letter, what these potential witnesses could add to the inquest, save for to deny any bullying”, he made two decisions which put pressure group Conservative Way Forward (CWF) on the spot.
We can see this from the Guardian’s rather more complete and impartial account of the ruling: “While the coroner has decided not to call Clarke and Walker to give evidence, he will examine the notes left behind by Johnson. However, he has agreed to investigate Johnson’s dismissal from his role as political editor at the rightwing thinktank Conservative Way Forward (CWF) on 19 August last year”. There is more.
“In his ruling, Osborne says the redundancy letter is ‘clearly linked’ to an altercation between Johnson and Clarke in a Westminster pub on 12 August, which prompted Johnson to complain about Clarke to the Conservative party. CWF has previously denied Johnson’s redundancy was linked to this incident … Paul Abbott, former CWF chief executive, will be called to give evidence and deal with the correspondence between the organisation and Johnson” [my emphases].
Ray Johnson has rightly picked up on these developments, commenting “I’m pleased that the coroner has decided to investigate Elliott’s dismissal by CWF … It’s good the coroner recognises the link between the dismissal and Mark Clarke”. And if the coroner has linked the 12 August incident to Elliott Johnson’s redundancy, then he is considering the allegations of bullying - something the Fawkes blog missed, perhaps deliberately.
In the run-up to last year’s General Election, my good friend Peter Jukes observed that the Fawkes blog was effectively a deniable branch of Tory HQ. With its spin yesterday, it is now looking like it is a deniable branch of CWF, and perhaps the YBF, as well. But spin, propaganda and smears are not going to cut the mustard with the coroner.
The Johnson family have prised open the lid on this singularly nasty can of worms just a little. The inquest proper might just prise it open a little bit more.