Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 December 2014

New twist in Falkirk controversy

Labour leader Ed Miliband has been urged to release a report on alleged vote rigging
Labour leader Ed Miliband has been urged to release a report on alleged vote rigging

A woman who raised concerns over alleged vote-rigging in the Labour Falkirk constituency party has denied she later withdrew her complaint, leading to the closure of an investigation.

The investigation was halted in September after it was said that key witnesses withdrew evidence suggesting that they had been recruited to join Labour as part of a drive by the Unite union to cram the constituency party with supporters who would back its favoured candidate in a selection battle to replace Eric Joyce.

Party leader Ed Miliband has come under pressure to publish a report into the allegations in light of reports in the Sunday Times that the union "manipulated" the process.

The Sunday Times reported that it had seen emails suggesting that the retraction letter of witnesses was written by Unite officials and approved by one of the figures at the heart of the dispute, Falkirk constituency party chairman Stevie Deans, who was also the union's convenor at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant until he resigned last week.

Lorraine and Michael Kane were among those who claimed that they had been signed up as members without consent.

Mrs Kane told the Daily Mail: "I did not change the testimony. I did not change anything. I did not withdraw anything.

"I want all the emails to see what's what. This has been going on for months.

"I don't know what the emails are saying. I want to see everything so I know what was said and if anything was changed from what I said."

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey was asked if the union was involved in the retractions.

He told the BBC Daily Politics show: "I deny it completely. Here's precisely what happened, independent solicitors actually took witness statements from the family and they're the ones that were influencing the Labour Party to say that the position has been clarified and there is no case to answer."

Mr McCluskey said Mr Deans saw some of the retraction statements before they were made public.

He said: "It's his family, this is an ordinary decent family who were suddenly faced with the full weight of the establishment, the police, a forensic solicitor, of course they spoke to Stevie Deans."

Mr Deans and the proposed candidate Karie Murphy were suspended by Labour when the inquiry was launched, but charges against them were dropped and they were reinstated as members after complaints were withdrawn.

Unite deny any wrongdoing by members throughout the selection process.

A spokesman for the union said: ''Specifically, Unite entirely denies any involvement in or knowledge of the forging of signatures on application forms or of any documents whatsoever; the coercing of individuals to join the Labour party - however that might be accomplished; the recruitment of individuals to the party without their knowledge or any other breach of Labour party rules.

''Unite called for an independent public inquiry into what happened in Falkirk, and we remain entirely happy to assist such an inquiry - and draw appropriate lessons from it if necessary - should one be established.''

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