Johann Lamont: New Falkirk claims need scrutiny

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont. Picture: Jane Barlow
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont. Picture: Jane Barlow
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SCOTTISH Labour leader Johann Lamont has called for the party to look again at claims members of the Unite union tried to rig the party’s candidate selection in Falkirk.

Her comments will heap more pressure on UK party leader Ed Miliband to reopen an investigation into the allegations.

Former chancellor and Labour MP Alistair Darling called for a new inquiry on Monday night, saying that it was clear the original investigation did not have all the facts. He added: “Something has gone very wrong in Falkirk.”

However, Labour at UK level insisted there was “insufficient evidence to proceed with our inquiry”.

Ms Lamont’s remarks came after key witnesses denied changing their evidence to the original probe, as was said by Unite, which led to the inquiry being dropped. The latest moves came a day after it was revealed that Stephen Deans, Unite’s convener at the Grangemouth refinery complex until last week, plans to step down as Labour’s Falkirk West chair, amid claims that he tried to thwart the original investigation. Grangemouth owner Ineos has handed a cache of his e-mails to police.

Mr Deans and Karie Murphy were suspended from the party earlier this year amid claims that the union had tried to cram the constituency party with supporters who would back Ms Murphy in a selection battle to replace Eric Joyce.

But a probe was halted after it was claimed that witnesses, including Lorraine and Michael Kane, withdrew evidence, in which they alleged they were signed up as party members without consent. Yesterday, they denied altering that evidence or asking for its withdrawal.

Mrs Kane said: “I did not change the testimony. I did not change anything. I did not withdraw anything. I want all the e-mails to see what’s what. This has been going on for months.

“I don’t know what the e-mails are saying. I want to see everything so I know what was said and if anything was changed from what I said.”

Mr Kane added: “I never changed nothing.”

However, a UK Labour Party spokesman said last night that the decision to abandon the inquiry into Unite was based on a sworn affidavit by Mrs Kane.

Mr Miliband is under pressure from Falkirk party members to publish Labour’s report, after extracts were leaked suggesting some were people coerced or badgered into joining before the selection process.

Ms Lamont insisted there was no need to publish the internal inquiry. But she suggested there was a case to reopen the probe.

She said: “We certainly need to look at that, because there is a concern if the investigation wasn’t entirely complete. These matters are ongoing. We know some complaints have been given to the police.

“In this process what we want to do is get beyond the point where people are claiming and counter-claiming and get to the point where again individual Labour Party members are treated with respect.”

Mr Darling said: “Something has gone very wrong in Falkirk. There needs to be a very thorough investigation.

“I understand the police are looking at matters now. If they don’t [proceed], there needs to be a full inquiry and I am quite clear that the results have to be published, because that is the only way in which people will be satisfied that justice is done and been seen to be done.”

The row over the Falkirk selection was also at the heart of a dispute at Grangemouth, which almost led to the closure of the site’s petrochemical facility. Mr Deans was investigated by Ineos, the plant’s owner, over claims he spent company time, in his role as Unite convener, on Labour Party business.

Unite chose to strike over his treatment, triggering a dramatic chain of events that led to Ineos announcing plans to close part of the plant. That decision was reversed only after Unite members agreed to changes in pay and conditions.

Mr Deans resigned from the plant last Monday, the night before he was due to meet management. Ineos’s investigation into his activities allegedly unearthed about 1,000 e-mails suggesting a letter retracting key evidence in the Labour investigation had not been written by the witnesses but by union officials and approved by Mr Deans.

Labour has so far refused to reopen the inquiry into the row, saying it wants the police to first complete inquiries into the e-mails Ineos has handed over.

Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said last night: “Ed Miliband has been totally silent about this, ever since he caved in and cancelled Labour’s inquiry. If Ed Miliband is too weak to stand up to his union paymasters, then he is too weak to stand up for hardworking people.”

A Labour spokesman said: “Throughout this process we have said we will look at any new evidence which might justify the reopening of our inquiry.”

He added that the party’s general secretary had spoken to Mrs Kane again, saying: “She said she stands by a sworn affidavit given to us on 2 September.”

Labour will select a candidate to fight Falkirk West on 8 December from an all-woman shortlist with nominations already open. However, the local party will remain subject to “special measures”, with the national executive deciding the make-up of the candidate shortlist.

A Unite spokesman said yesterday: “Unite entirely denies any involvement in or knowledge of the forging of signatures on any documents whatsoever; the coercing of individuals to join the Labour Party; the recruitment of individuals to the party without their knowledge; or any other breach of Labour Party rules..”