The suspended general secretary of Ukip, Roger Bird, has fought back in the battle to save his career amid claims that he sexually harassed Natasha Bolter, who until this week was a prominent female member of the party.
Bird released 10 text messages that he claimed he had received from Bolter between September and November this year. These, he said proved that they had been in a consensual relationship.
Claims by Bolter, a former Labour supporter who addressed Ukip’s autumn conference, that Bird had sexually harassed her prompted his suspension from the party as she simultaneously resigned and ruled herself out of the running as Ukip’s parliamentary candidate for South Basildon, in Essex.
The text messages released by Bird include one saying “I am really missing u bird...” and another saying “I love u bird and wish u let me look after u. Hope u feel better xx” Bird told Channel 4’s political editor Michael Crick: “Natasha Bolter and I were in a consensual relationship between 18 September and 2 November, well after her admission to the list of approved candidates. “She was keen on me and I was keen on her. I have got emails and texts to show we had a relationship and I will be presenting these to the inquiry. In any relationship there are some texts of an intimate nature.”
However, Bolter denied on BBC2’s Newsnight that she had ever slept with Bird. She said: “If I would have slept with him, I would of probably had an easier time than I have had in Ukip. But … I joined a party and then I was thrown to the wolves.” In an interview conducted before details of her text exchanges had been released she said they “were not of an intimate nature.” She said she did send texts in which she put xx at the end – saying “that is a girl thing to do but I don’t think that is particularly intimate”.
She contended Bird had asked her to sleep with him but “when I said no, nothing happened. I think he was a gentleman. I never felt scared of him I just felt pressured that if I did the right thing my career would go further and faster. If I had slept with him I would probably have had an easier time in Ukip.”
She said her decision to raise her concerns was taken even though “it might ruin her career and her life”.
Ukip leaders were understood to have urged her as late as Sunday night to remain in the race to become a parliamentary candidate. The former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton, once in line to be Ukip candidate for Boston and Skegness, is now in a strong position to win the party’s Basildon nomination at hustings on Wednesday evening.
Hamilton pulled out of the Boston race a month ago, leaving the nomination to be taken by a local candidate.
Bolter told the Times that Bird, who was involved in vetting candidates, made unwanted advances to her on the day she was interviewed after taking her to the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London.
She claimed that on a second occasion he called her for a meeting and bought her an expensive dress to wear to the same club, before telling her that she “now looked like a girl who could get in a taxi”.
She told the newspaper that he made further unwanted advances after a meal, which she again rejected.
After this incident, Bolter claims to have received anonymous emails saying she had slept with Bird and was “bullying” her, at which point she made a complaint to party officials.
Bird claims the two had a sexual relationship, which Bolter denies. Bird told the BBC: “We were in a relationship briefly, but that relationship developed well after she had been admitted to the approved candidates list, so her selection was not connected to this.”
He added: “Natasha Bolter’s candidate assessment was conducted entirely within the rules, as the party has already verified. Subsequent to that, Natasha Bolter and I were in a consensual relationship. I am not the head of candidates and I do not dictate which candidates get selected for which seats, nor would I try to, although I have advised and helped a number of candidates over the course of my years in the party.
“The party quite rightly has a duty to investigate complaints of a potentially serious nature and I feel they have acted entirely properly in doing that … It is important that the party has instigated a formal process and I hope that will soon be brought to a conclusion.”
Ukip released a statement saying Bird had been suspended but declined to go into details. It said: “Shortly after a claim came to light about the conduct of Mr Bird with regard to candidate selection, Ukip took action swiftly and decisively, including steps involving external human resources consultants, as well as following due process and the party’s constitution to the letter.
“ Unfortunately, Ukip has had to suspend Mr Bird pending a full investigation into allegations made against him. The party has acted swiftly and decisively and will not tolerate impropriety of any kind amongst its staff.”
The party said it had received a report from HR consultants at the weekend and acted quickly thereafter. The party’s disciplinary committee will decide before Christmas on what action to take.
Within Ukip’s membership there is a concern, but also some suspicion that a former Labour party member has joined the party recently only to make such serious claims so soon. Bolter was a high-profile recruit from the Tower Hamlets Labour party and made a star appearance at the party’s autumn conference, where she was introduced by Bird as a fellow Oxford PPE graduate.
She said then: “Ukip is a fair party, respecting all nationalities and genders. We are an equal party. We have women at centre-stage, just look how many MEPs we have. The women in Ukip have flourished equally alongside our male counterparts. We are seen for our intelligence and aptitude. We are seen for our hard graft. We are respected for our contribution. I want to be a candidate for Ukip and I want to campaign to win but I want to be selected on merit.”
She has now told the Times that she encountered racism in every Ukip branch she visited, as well as regular sexism.
Bird previously held the role of chairman of Ukip in south-east England and was selected last month as a parliamentary candidate for the seat of Cities of London and Westminster.
The party has recently been under scrutiny over the way some local candidates have been deselected, potentially to make way for bigger names. Bird was involved in at least one of these controversies, when he told the Portsmouth News that the removal of Douglas Denny in Portsmouth South was a “routine event”.
His LinkedIn page says he has been general secretary of the party since July and was previously a finance director and auditor.
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