Tory Recruitment Deficiencies Laid Bare

BY ALEXIA JAMES

Last week’s election results were a shot in the arm for the Conservative Party. Hartlepool was a great success while gaining Northumberland Council was also a positive step forward – in 2017, the Tories had lost overall control of the council. Glen Sanderson, Conservative leader of Northumberland County Council, said he believed the party had “steady” and “solid” leadership following a turbulent few months, which saw the chief executive placed on “extended leave” after “raising concerns” and the former Tory leader ousted in a no-confidence vote.

Yet scratch beneath the surface and look beyond the positive spin of the Northumberland victory – and across the country – political parties are still not attracting the calibre of candidate they would hope for and there is still far too much cronyism and corruption. There is not sufficient spending on due diligence before candidates are chosen, nor is there a satisfactory complaints process in place when red flags are waved at local or national level. This magazine has covered the shenanigans at Torbay Council in the past, which is one of the most corrupt in the country and employing some shockingly low-grade characters both as officers and councillors. Northumberland seems not that far behind….

Take the case of Richard Andrew Pike who stood for the Conservative Party up in Northumberland for the Morpeth North Parish Ward. Pike helps to run Bockenfield Aerodrome Limited (BAL) in Eshott, Northumberland. He was already a controversial candidate locally before passing selection, owing to persistent local claims of unlawful low flying from the airfield and his involvement in a sponsored aircraft rally to Malta which end in tragedy in the Alps.

Andrew Buck & Lewis Stubbs

The Mirror reported in July 2019:

“Mr Pike, a company director at Purple Aviation, was one of seven friends who set off from Eshott Airfield in Northumberland on Sunday July 21 in four planes. The group on the ‘trip of a lifetime’ were flying to Malta in several stages, hoping to arrive on Saturday July 27. Andrew Buck, 37, had been piloting one with Lewis Stubbs, 18, a passenger. Both were killed when the plane came down in woodland on the edge of the Alps over the Maddalena Pass, on France’s border with Italy. A second plane made a crash landing on a steep hill but the pilot was unharmed. An investigation into the plane crashes is ongoing by French authorities. Purple Aviation are the operators of Eshott Airfield but were not the organisers of the trip, according to Mr Pike. However, two company directors were on the trip and both planes which crashed were owned by the company.”

While there is no suggestion that Richard Pike was in any way responsible for the deaths of Buck or Stubbs, there is plenty of animosity locally regarding the conduct of Richard Pike in the operation of his leased airfield. In sponsoring Pike for public office, there must be no doubt about his or any other applicant’s probity – a councillor must meet certain standards. Everyone in public office at all levels; all who serve the public or deliver public services, including ministers, civil servants, councillors and local authority officers; should uphold the 7 Principles of Public Life, also known as the Nolan Principles.

Eshott locals are worried about planes hitting their homes and farms

Yet a glance at the court documents and transcript related to Pike’s involvement in a breach of easement case – Bockenfield Aerodrome Limited v. Scott and Laura Clarehugh [2021] EWHC 848 – shows that Richard Pike is fortunate he has not yet been charged with falsifying evidence.

Judge Kramer sitting as a judge of the High Court in Newcastle decided that the Clarehughs had breached an easement but determined that the scope of the easement was significantly narrower than BAL had originally argued. The result was a compromise which tried to balance the interests of the parties in the use of their own land. BAL’s various claims for damages were rejected entirely. BAL obtained a significant order against the defendants for the reimbursement of legal costs which reflected the decision that there had been a breach of the easement. However, the fact that BAL did not obtain a full order for reimbursement reflects the decision that BAL’s claim for damages failed completely.

Richard Pike

A solicitor in the North-east who followed the case states:

Evidence for the alleged losses was sketchy and generally gave the impression of being manufactured. The principal witnesses in support of the claims to damages were Richard Pike and Samuel Woodgate. Generally, where there was a conflict of evidence between either of these two witnesses and another witness, the judge preferred the evidence of the other witness. This lack of credibility was the single most important factor in the failure of the claim for damages.”

An early example of the lack of credibility is at paragraph 63 of the judgment. Here the judge deals with evidence from Mr Muir, another neighbouring landowner with whom BAL is in conflict, whom Richard Pike tried to discredit. The judge stated that:

‘Mr [Richard] Pike tried to deal with these allegations by making completely unnecessary allegations of fraud against Mr Muir….These allegations were supported by nothing more than Mr Pike’s word, which, for reasons which I deal with later, did not seem to me to carry much weight…As regards his [Mr Muir’s] denials of fraud and staging an incident, I prefer his account of events where it differs from that of Mr Pike and Mr Woodgate.’

This assessment of the truthfulness of Pike and Woodgate became a theme in the judge’s decision.

In dealing with the claim for damages the judge makes the general point at paragraph 123 that a

‘total of £207,984.34 is claimed…. I shall deal with each head of loss in turn. These claims rely to a great extent on the credibility of Mr Pike and Mr Woodgate, but their evidence in this respect has been found wanting, as I shall explain.’

This lack of credibility was the single most important factor in the failure of the claim.

An exceptional example of Richard Pike’s willingness to mislead is dealt with at paragraphs 126 to 133. Richard Pike had submitted in evidence an email to him from a third party purporting to describe the problems which the third party had experienced in landing a particular type of aircraft at the airfield. Relatively late in the hearing lawyers for the defendants spotted inconsistencies between different copies of the same email. Richard Pike was called back into the witness box to give evidence. He admitted that he had altered the email before putting it in evidence but claimed to have had the authority of the sender to do so. Even had that been true, it is very questionable conduct to have done that without disclosing the fact because in evidence the email appears as an original document as evidence of what it actually said, not what it might have said. However, at paragraph 128 the judge rejected Richard Pike’s explanation as ‘implausible’. The judge’s basis for that conclusion is set out in detail at paragraphs 128 – 133. The judge deals with various ‘suspicious’ circumstances in Richard Pike’s evidence. In this section of his judgment Judge Kramer comes close to describing Richard Pike as a liar without actually using that word. It is noteworthy that throughout his judgment Judge Kramer is careful about how he expresses himself. It took him four months to issue his judgment. He referred on occasions to the possibility of an appeal and clearly he was aware that his judgment would create legal interest. This is not just another civil case in Newcastle but a decision on a matter on which there have been few legal decisions but where civil litigation can be expected to increase owing to the Government’s deregulation of unlicensed airfields which leaves local residents with few remedies other than the courts. Therefore, the judgment is already attracting interest in specialist legal news feeds.

Again at paragraph 144 the judge refers to Richard Pike’s (and Samuel Woodgate’s) lack of credibility when dismissing a particular claim. Overall, the picture is that Richard Pike and Samuel Woodgate were willing to make incorrect and unfounded assertions in order to advance their case. Richard Pike knowingly submitted doctored evidence in court which some might call perjury.

So what, you may well ask?

Who cares about some parish council elections in Morpeth North? Richard Pike is a nobody. He wasn’t even elected.

Well, you should care because the Conservative Party were informed about Richard Pike and the Clarehugh case on the 23rd April 2021 – a full 13 days before the election. They responded to the complaint on the 27th April 2021. On the 28th April the Conservative Party received the evidence above, in much fuller detail. Yet Pike still stood on the 6th May.

Worse, the local party knew of the questions regarding Pike’s character long before this election. The Head of Northumberland County Council, Glen Sanderson, knew about Pike’s character because of the airfield’s long running and contentious planning dispute with local residents that has been fought for the last 3 years without any sign of an amicable resolution… locally Pike’s airfield is known by some as Pike’s Flying Circus and residents near the airfield fear that a plane will crash onto them. Yet nobody intervened to remove Pike from the election, even though he was a serious risk to the Conservative brand. Some locals speak of cronyism in Northumberland County Council’s handling of the airfield’s planning application to expand its activities. A formal complaint has been made by the local Parish Council and local residents saying in substance that the NCC is ignoring their concerns and that the planning process seems to revolve around what the airfield wants. This complaint seems destined to find its way to the Local Government Ombudsman.

The reality is that the Conservative Party does not have the funds for a deep dive due diligence campaign on each candidate. Certainly not on Parish Council candidates. The quality of the CCHQ staff investigating such cases is also low-grade – look at the money they are earning.

The question, therefore, for CCHQ moving on must be what or who controls the selection of candidates to represent the Conservative Party? What defines Quality Control (of applicants)? And in this instance who is liable for the failed attempt of an individual such as Richard Pike, with his serious, judge-referenced character flaws and self-confessed doctoring of evidence, to stand for public office under a Conservative ticket?

Or could it be that current levels of Tory cronyism trump common sense? For when Theresa May called her disastrous General Election in 2017 where was the first place she ‘campaigned’ publicly in the UK?

Pike’s Eshott Airfield.

A coincidence…?

Has the party become that complacent and arrogant under its relatively new management?

The cherry on this steaming turd of a story came on the 11th of May, 2021. The following came back from CCHQ’s investigator of complaints:

Good afternoon,

I refer to your numerous emails in which you complain about Richard Pike under the Party’s Code of Conduct for Conservative Party Representatives 2017 (“the Code”). It is available on our website at www.conservatives.com/code-of-conduct. I am the Investigating Officer under the Code.

My role

My role is to investigate your complaint thoroughly, impartially and objectively, in accordance with the Code. It is not my role to take sides, or to help you build up a complaint, or to gather evidence on your behalf. By the same reasoning it is my role to do the same for the respondent.

I investigate alleged breaches of the Code. I do not investigate crimes, which only the police should do. I do not prosecute and am not involved in final judgement. However, it is within my power to dismiss a complaint which is obviously trivial and/or lacking merit and/or cannot be fairly investigated or cannot be investigated at all.

My decision

I dismiss your complaint pursuant to part 2, stage 1 of the Code of Conduct due to lack of evidence. I note your submission of an anonymous statement from someone apparently called “S,” however I am unable to accept such as evidence.

The Code of Conduct is a formal legal process for making an official complaint about a representative of the Conservative Party. If you wish to make an official complaint, please send the allegations and evidence to complaints@conservatives.com. The steps for making a complaint are detailed at https://www.conservatives.com/code-of-conduct. Alternatively, press enquiries should be sent to press@conservatives.com.

Yours sincerely,

Investigating Officer

CCHQ

Something is clearly awry at CCHQ. Someone should sort it out. The Tory machine clearly has a fault. CCHQ seems bothered by the identity of ‘S’ – forget ‘S’. CCHQ investigators have acted deliberately ignorant of the conclusions of a high court judge. That is incompetence beyond belief.

Someone at CCHQ should face facts that more money is needed for a deep dive due diligence check on prospective candidates. Subcontract the whole thing to someone competent – raise the necessary funds and employ the likes of Kroll. Or the party could end up following Labour – becoming swamped by psychos and lunatics.