Neil Hamilton withdraws from Ukip candidacy after expenses controversy

Neil Hamilton has withdrawn from the selection process to become a prospective parliamentary candidate for Ukip in Essex after accusing senior party figures of being involved in a dirty tricks campaign designed to destabilise his bid.

Hamilton’s accusation was prompted by a letter from the party’s finance and resources committee challenging some of his expenses claims.

The letter emerged shortly before the selection meeting to decide on the party’s candidate in South Basildon and East Thurrock, where Kerry Smith was selected pending approval by the party’s national executive.

Hamilton had thrown his hat in the ring for the seat after Smith was deselected – only to then be reinstated. The former MP used his hustings speech to endorse her.

Senior figures in Ukip had previously worked hard to successfully prevent the former Conservative MP becoming a candidate in Boston and Skegness, and managed to prevent him from becoming an MEP.

Natasha Bolter – now locked in a briefing war over an alleged sex scandal with the party general secretary Roger Bird – had at one point been slated to be a candidate in South Basildon but has now resigned from the party, making it more likely that Hamilton would succeed in his bid.

The lengthy letter leaked to Channel 4 and sent to Hamilton questions why he charged VAT on the expenses he claimed during the European elections campaign. It also questions why he charged expenses for staying at the flat of his wife Christine, rather than staying at his home, and challenges some of his mileage claims.

The letter asks: “We have seen the email trail and would like an explanation as to why you did not go back to those who agreed this salary and why you did not make it known that you intended to charge VAT on your salary by charging Ukip through a company for your services as this incurred Ukip in extra costs. It is accepted that Ukip would have had to pay employer’s NI which is substantially less than VAT.

“What is wrong here, is that you failed to go back to the management committee to clear the arrangement knowing that Ukip was at all times during this campaign short of money.

“We note that you have withdrawn your claim for attendance and stay at the Doncaster Conference as you now say that it was wrongly put in due to a ‘fit of pique’ – whatever that means.

“We further note that you are no longer proceeding with this claim at all. We find this somewhat surprising particularly as, if the expenses can be substantiated, as set out above, there is no reason for Ukip not to pay it or for you to withdraw the claim!”

The letter asserts that Hamilton has had a month to produce answers, and a reply must now be forthcoming by 15 December.

It concludes: “Please do bear in mind that we receive at Lexdrum House [the party headquarters] handwritten letters from pensioners enclosing a £5 or a £10 note which they have managed to save so as to send it to Ukip and hence we need to make sure that all expenses are fully explainable.”

Hamilton became a hugely controversial figure while serving as a Tory MP over allegations that he took cash in brown envelopes for asking parliamentary questions, which he has always denied.

Powered by article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 10th December 2014 23.26 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010