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Probe into Tory bullying claims to be conducted by law firm

An investigation into alleged bullying in the Conservative Party's youth wing has been taken out of the hands of the party.

Following a meeting of the Conservative Party board it was announced that the inquiry would be conducted "in its entirety" by the law firm, Clifford Chance.

It said the party chairman Lord Feldman and deputy chairman Rob Halfon will "recuse" themselves from the board meeting when it comes to consider Clifford Chance's report.

The board is also to bring in an "independent third party specialist" to undertake a separate review of the party's governance processes.

The move comes after former party co-chairman Grant Shapps announced at the weekend he was standing down as an international development minister following claims he failed act on reports of bullying in Conservative Future.

The allegations centre on the activities of the former activist Mark Clarke, who was expelled from the party earlier this month, following claims he bullied a young party member, Elliott Johnson, who subsequently committed suicide.

Mr Clarke has strongly denied the allegations against him.

However the resignation of Mr Shapps has left Lord Feldman - an old university friend of David Cameron who was co-chairman with Mr Shapps until the general election in May - facing calls to quit as well.

Mr Johnson's father Ray has said that Lord Feldman should also stand down over his handling of the case.

In a statement, the party said: "The board would like to express its profound regret at the tragic death of Elliott Johnson and sends its deepest condolences to his family and friends.

"The board wishes to ensure that its investigation into events surrounding Elliott's death and the alleged activities of Mark Clarke and others is, and is seen to be, timely, objective, and comprehensive and independent from the chairman, CCHQ (Conservative Campaign Headquarters) staff and party volunteers."

Earlier, Chancellor George Osborne strongly defended Lord Feldman, telling LBC radio: "Andrew Feldman is an outstanding chairman of the Conservative Party. He is also a person of real integrity.

"The Conservative Party is absolutely determined to make sure we find out what went wrong in the past and make sure it's not repeated in the future."

There had been criticisms that an inquiry set up by the party to look into the allegations would not be properly independent as evidence would have been gathered by party officials and then passed to Clifford Chance.

However the statement made clear the law firm would be responsible for taking witness statements as well as collating and reviewing the written evidence.

The firm will also review all interviews which have already been conducted and will give those who have given evidence the option to be re-interviewed.

"No party officials will be involved in this process, other than as witnesses," the statement said.


From Belfast Telegraph