Hampstead Town Tory “deselection” row reaches High Court
PUBLISHED: 12:30 04 February 2020 | UPDATED: 14:31 04 February 2020
A bitter row over who would stand for the Conservative Party in Hampstead Town at the 2018 local elections made it to the High Court last week.
Former candidate Hamish Hunter has brought a case against the local Conservative Association claiming "unlawful" decisions saw him replaced by Cllr Maria Higson in February 2018.
The legal action, which names the association as a whole, and six prominent local members, alleges breaches of the Equality Act and contract law in relation to his replacement and how subsequent complaints were handled.
The Hampstead and Kilburn Conservative Association (H&KCA) and the individuals all deny each claim and argue Mr Hunter resigned during a mental health crisis in late January 2018. He said this was not the case.
Serving councillors Oliver Cooper, Maria Higson, Henry Newman and Gio Spinella are named, along with local Tory agent David Douglas and former councillor Kirsty Roberts.
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Mr Hunter has also made a defamation claim against Cllr Cooper, who leads the Camden Tory group
At a hearing before Senior Master Barbara Fontaine, Mr Hunter, a trained barrister, represented himself and sought to persuade the court to hear his allegations in a full trial. He argued opposing lawyers had "not engaged with the substance" of his complaint, claiming a letter from party solicitors had made "an attempt to shame [me] for mental ill health".
Lawyers for the defendants called for Master Fontaine to strike out the claims on the basis Mr Hunter has pursued the case in the wrong court. Tom Cross, representing the defendants in the contract and Equalities Act dispute, told the hearing "clear and well-known" rules exist, meaning such cases should be heard in the County Court, and that filing the action in the High Court was "an attempt to harass the defendants".
Mr Hunter denied this, saying it was a "genuine and honest mistake" for which he apologised.
Mr Cross argued that if Master Fontaine did not strike out the whole claim, she should do so when it came to Cllr Spinella and Cllr Higson - whom he claimed were not alleged to have done anything unlawful. Mr Hunter said both had been part of a "conspiracy".
The defamation claim alleges Cllr Cooper told a group in The Garden Gate pub that Mr Hunter "attempted to stab" him in an "attempted murder". Two similar libels are also cited. Greg Callus, representing Cllr Cooper, argued the claim had not been made soon enough, and there was insufficient evidence of the slander.
Master Fontaine will decide whether the case will continue to trial in the coming weeks.
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