Tory suspended in 'vote plot' probe
The Tory candidate in a key general election marginal has been suspended after allegedly hatching a plot with far-right extremists to win votes by stirring up racial hatred.
Afzal Amin is accused of scheming with the English Defence League (EDL) to announce an inflammatory march against a new 'mega-mosque' in the seat of Dudley North.
But, according to the Mail on Sunday, the idea was for the protest to be scrapped with Mr Amin taking the credit for defusing the situation.
In return he allegedly promised that he would be an "unshakeable ally" for the EDL in parliament and help bring their views to the mainstream.
A Conservative Party spokesman confirmed that Mr Amin - who was apparently filmed covertly talking about the deal - had been suspended.
"Following an emergency meeting it has been decided to suspend him as a candidate with immediate effect," the spokesman said.
"The Conservatice Party views this as a matter of extremely serious concern."
A full disciplinary hearing is expected to be held on Tuesday, when Mr Amin will be able to explain his actions and a decision on his future will be taken.
Prime Minister David Cameron is understood to have been informed of the situation and approves of the way it is being handled.
Mr Amin was reportedly filmed by former EDL leader Tommy Robinson, who blew the whistle on the plot because he objected to being used as a pawn .
The candidate, said to have been described on his Tory Party website as a former Army education officer to Princes William and Harry, outlined his plan to Mr Robinson and current EDL chairman Steve Eddowes at an Indian restaurant in Birmingham on Monday.
The 40-year-old allegedly suggested EDL members could be paid to canvass on his behalf, and floated the idea of a phoney protest - just weeks after a real demonstration in Dudley by 600 EDL supporters led to 30 arrests.
'This is my fantasy," he apparently says in the footage. " If I could demonstrate to the people in Dudley that I can be a positive voice for community cohesion, for development, for campaigning against the evils and the terrorism and the child grooming and all the rest of it, then that would help me a lot in the forthcoming Election.
'One way of doing that is, if you were to announce a second march about the mosque ... and then we have two meetings with the chief of police, members of the Muslim community, we all play our roles, you say 'Yeah we're going to do a march, we're campaigning and so on'.
"We have a second meeting where things are a bit calmer then at the third one, we have a press conference where we say, 'We were going to do a march. The chief police asked Afzal Amin, members of the Muslim community, we've sat together and ... we're going to work closely together".'
Mr Amin reportedly expanded on his plot in a phone call on Wednesday and in a second meeting at a branch of Pizza Express in London on Thursday.
Paying people to canvass in elections is an offence under the Representation of the People Act 1983.
But Mr Amin is said to have told the men: 'I'll put it to you bluntly. I need two white working class lads to go round those areas to say to people, 'You support the Army, if you support the troops then vote for this guy'. That's what I need."
When Mr Robinson suggested that would cost £500 a week, Mr Amin is said to have replied: 'What's that, £250 each a week? They do April 4 to the first week of May, that'll be loads ... from our perspective, they're volunteers."
Mr Amin had been due to take on sitting Labour MP Ian Austin in the election on May 7. Mr Austin had a majority of 649 in Dudley North in 2010.
Labour frontbencher Jonathan Ashworth said: "Decent people in politics share the wide consensus that the EDL are quite simply despicable. These allegations regarding such a senior Conservative Party figure in Afzal Amin are quite simply jaw dropping.
"Given these allegations the Tory Party should take immediate steps to suspend Mr Amin from membership.
"What's more the Tory Party must also investigate who else might have been involved.
"The Tory campaign is tonight mired in deeply damaging allegations, such as those against Mr Amin and the ongoing controversy surrounding Tory Chairman Grant Shapps.
"As the Tories turn in on themselves, beset by problems of their own making, only Labour has a better plan for a better future."
Mr Austin said: "This is a shocking story. A really appalling turn of events, but it doesn't matter who the Tory candidate is because it's the Conservative Government's policies that mean 400 staff at Russells Hall Hospital are facing redundancy."
In a statement on his website, Mr Amin said the footage had been "grossly misrepresented and present an inaccurate picture of the reality of what was happening".
"While the meetings were intended to be private and discreet, I made sure I involved Chief Superintendent Chris Johnson from the start and I made clear, which is evident in the recordings, that I refused to do anything illegal," he said.
"During a time of heated tensions between various communities in our country, it's vital that we tackle these problems and take difficult, sometimes uncomfortable, steps. The potential for inter communal violence has become a real threat to the destabilisation of our country and we must prevent this at all costs ...
"At the second meeting it was Robinson who proposed the idea of staging a march at our third meeting, this was a surprise to me and after some discussion I saw some merit in the potential to build bridges through negotiation and so I agreed it was worth discussing further.
"I recognised this as an opportunity to promote better community cohesion between various communities, particularly in Dudley because it would lead to face to face discussions between communities and an increase in awareness of the other. It would serve as a confidence building measure.
"Politics requires an amount of bravery and using my experience as a strategist in Afghanistan, negotiating between pro-Taliban militias and the US military, I decided to use the same tactics to improve community relations here in my own country between the EDL and Muslim communities."
Mr Amin told the BBC: "It wasn't a fake demonstration. The point was to announce a march that would bring people together to discuss and through those discussions tensions would be resolved.
"What I've tried to do is to ease those tensions between those communities."
He added: "The actual reality is that the march would be used as a catalyst to bring people together to negotiate and discuss and learn about each other."
He said: "In the process I engaged with the leadership of the Muslim community, with the local police, local political figures and with people who said they were members of the EDL, including Tommy Robinson.
"I wanted to see these two communities really learn more about each other through face-to-face discussion and it is of great regret to me that in what's been reported 99% of the work we've been doing has been completely ignored and this tiny fragment of the work has been put forward in this gross misrepresentation of the work I have been doing for a year.
"If I did regret something it is probably that I wasn't more aware of how much negative interest there would be from some elements of the media to try and distort this.
"When you are trying to resolve conflict between two different groups there has to be a conflict resolution exercise and in that exercise there is always going to be some element of stage management, so different parties do certain things to build confidence in the other.
"When Tommy Robinson suggested to me at our third meeting that a second march could be organised and then that would form a method for involving different communities to talk together and then the march would be discussed and we would present the march as unnecessary."