Redbridge Council leader Jas Athwal calls for investigation after being cleared of allegations against him
PUBLISHED: 11:48 16 September 2020 | UPDATED: 13:36 16 September 2020
Photography by Ken Mears
Redbridge Council leader Jas Athwal has called for an investigation into the handling of a complaint which saw him prevented from standing in last year’s general election after revealing he was cleared of all allegations against him.
On Tuesday night Cllr Athwal was reinstated into the Labour Party after a hearing of the National Constitutional Committee, the party’s highest disciplinary body, cleared him of any wrongdoing.
The council leader described the year-long process as “torture” and “hell” and called the decision to clear him “the inevitable conclusion of a malicious complaint against me”.
He added: “It should never have gotten this far or gone on this long.
“I am in no doubt that this malicious complaint was deliberately manipulated for no other reason than exclude me from the selection to become the Labour Party’s parliamentary candidate in the Ilford South constituency.”
He has received support from Ilford North MP Wes Streeting, who joined calls for an independent investigation.
In October, when party members were due to select their preferred candidates, Cllr Athwal was suspended from the party over “extremely serious allegations” which were first made against him in August 2019.
The timing of the suspension, which excluded him from running as a Labour candidate and which ushered in Sam Tarry’s selection and eventual win, was described by Cllr Athwal and Mr Streeting as an “unconstitutional stitch-up.”
Mr Streeting said: “I remain shocked and sickened by the depths to which people were prepared to sink in order to manipulate a parliamentary selection.
“This cannot go without serious consequences for those responsible for perpetuating this injustice.”
Mr Tarry said the claims that the process was a stitch-up to prevent Cllr Athwal from being selected as the Labour candidate were “not only farcical but insulting” to the complainant.
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“Mr Athwal is well aware that I was the clear choice for Labour members in Ilford South and that it was only my intervention in the room that led to the postponement of the original selection,” he told the Recorder.
“Our party is right to pursue justice for all victims,” he said, adding that there should be no risk of “undermining the confidence in the process that victims need to feel to come forward”.
Deputy Redbridge Council leader Cllr Kam Rai, who has been the party’s acting leader on the council since the suspension, has maintained Cllr Athwal’s innocence from the start and said: “While I have been honoured to lead the Labour group in his absence I am delighted to welcome him back to his rightful role.” Cllr Rai and Cllr Judith Garfield, chair of Redbridge Labour Group and the party’s Greater London Assembly candidate for Havering and Redbridge, both called for an immediate, independent investigation into the handling of the case.
Cllr Athwal said him and his family “have been through hell as this case has been dragged out” and that he felt “tortured and betrayed” by the party that he loved and served for more than a decade.
“There must never be a repeat of this,” he said.
“I have every confidence that Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership will restore principles of fairness, decency and justice to the Labour Party.
“The Labour Party must now undertake a thorough investigation into the handling of my case by party officers and members of the National Executive Committee and introduce a complaints system that is independent and free from political manipulation and corruption to give victims the confidence to know that they can come forward.”
Cllr Linda Huggett, leader of the conservative group said: “I am sure that Cllr Athwal must be relieved that he has been cleared of the allegations brought by his own Labour Party.
“I see that he has now launched a petition calling on the central Labour Party to introduce a complaints system that is free from continual political manipulation and corruption.
“Whilst we have every sympathy about the way he has been betrayed and tortured by his own party, given the seriousness of the allegations the people of Redbridge need full publication of the complaints and decisions of his investigation.
“Only then can residents have the confidence that the matter has been finally settled and will not cause any further distraction at a time when as council leader he should be fully focussed and concentrating on the health, wellbeing and needs of Redbridge residents.”
The Labour Party declined to comment on this story.
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