A coroner this afternoon (Friday) rejected a plea by the parents of a Tory activist who killed himself to examine allegations of bullying by members of the Conservative party.
Elliott Johnson (21), a former Grammar School student, died after laying down on rail tracks on September 15 last year, just weeks after making allegations about bullying by former Tory aide Mark Clarke.
Lawyers for his parents, Ray and Alison Johnson, argued at a hearing on Wednesday that an inquest into Elliott’s death should examine his claims of bullying. But today, Tom Osborne, the senior coroner for Bedfordshire and Luton, said the allegations would not form part of the inquest.
In a written ruling, he said: “It is my view that it would clearly be going beyond the proper scope of this inquest to be calling members of the Conservative Party to inquire into what steps or measures they are taking to investigate the bullying allegations by a party member towards another party member.
“This is very remote from the death of the deceased and can be tested in this way: the situation would be different if the deceased had been bullied by an MP carrying out his/her functions as an MP, or if there was a position or trust such as parent and child or teacher and child or indeed employer and employee between the deceased and Mr Clarke.
“But none of these relationships existed and it is not clear the extent to which the family would wish to extend this inquest, particularly bearing in mind that ‘article two’ is not engaged.
“This was on the face of it a dispute between two individuals who were not connected, apart from the fact that they shared the same political affiliation, and the deceased worked for a campaigning section of the Conservative Party.”
Mr Osborne added: “This is clearly a sad and tragic case.
“The deceased by all accounts had loving and caring parents and his death must have come as a great shock to them.”
Elliott was found dead at Sandy station, Bedfordshire, on September 15 last year after leaving a note in which he alleged former activist Mark Clarke had bullied him.
Mr Clarke, who was banned from the Conservative Party for life following the claims, strongly denies the allegations.
The note also added how Elliott felt betrayed by lobby journalist and former political adviser Andre Walker.
The ruling by Mr Osborne also read: “Whilst bullying of any kind is unacceptable I cannot accept that the nature of the bullying alleged to have been carried out against Elliott can be regarded as being in breach of Article 3.”
Mr Johnson’s family had argued that their son was subject to “inhuman and degrading treatment” contrary to Article 3 of the Human Rights Act which mean the scope of the inquest could be widened. The coroner rejected this.
However the ruling does state that there are potentially relevant issues to explore such as the fact Elliott lost his job as political editor at the right-wing think-tank Conservative Way Forward (CWF).
The coroner also accepted that a letter of complaint sent by Elliott to Conservative campaign headquarters about Mark Clarke’s behaviour was relevant.
On August 12 last year Elliott made a complaint regarding allegations of bullying by Mr Clarke. But Mr Osborne has stated at this stage it is not necessary to call either Mr Walker or Mr Clarke.
The ruling adds: “The allegation against them is a blunt one of bullying and betrayal. It is difficult to see that, beyond the assertions made by the deceased in his letter, what these potential witnesses could add to the inquest, save for to deny any bullying.”
Ray Johnson, Elliott’s father, released a statement after the ruling which reads: “I’m pleased that the coroner has decided to investigate Elliott’s dismissal by CWF. It’s good the coroner recognises the link between the dismissal and Mark Clarke.
“This is a really important step forward for the family.”
Mr Johnson also welcomed the coroner’s wish to hear a tape that former CWF chairman Donal Blaney had previously mentioned in relation to Elliott’s death.
He added: “The coroner also wants to hear a tape that Donal Blaney mentions – I would too as I don’t know what that is. The coroner says it is hard to see at this stage what the point would be in calling Mark Clarke and Andre Walker as witnesses.
“He says they would simply deny the bullying – I am not sure why he says that. He also says he will keep an open mind in relation to any further information. So maybe this will change at a later stage.”
The full inquest will be held over a full day at Ampthill coroners’ court on Thursday, March 31.