U.K. Minister Grant Shapps Resigns Over Death of Activist

  • `The buck should stop with me,' Shapps tells Cameron
  • Newly published letters show he knew of claims in January

Grant Shapps, a key figure in U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s general election victory in May, resigned as a minister on Saturday after a series of revelations about the way he dealt with allegations of bullying made by a Conservative Party activist who apparently killed himself.

Cameron’s office published an exchange of letters between the prime minister and Shapps, 47, who was the party’s chairman until the election, responsible for coordinating the ground campaign.

Elliott Johnson, 21, had accused campaign organizer Mark Clarke of bullying in a letter written shortly before his death, which was first published in the Mail on Sunday in October.

“Over the past few weeks –- as individual allegations have come to light -– I have come to the conclusion that the buck should stop with me,” Shapps said in his resignation letter to Cameron. “Given the very serious nature of what has subsequently occurred and my role in appointing Mr Clarke, I cannot help but conclude that the only right course of action is for me to step down as a Minister in your government.”

The Guardian newspaper reported earlier that Shapps had received written complaints about the activities of Clarke in January, but had continued to use him to organize the transport of young activists to marginal districts to campaign for votes during the election campaign.

“It’s a tragic loss of a talented young life and it’s not something any parent should have to go through and I feel for them deeply,” Cameron told reporters in Malta when asked about the Johnson, who died in September. “What the Conservative Party must do and is doing is ensure that there is a proper investigation into this issue, into the allegations that were made and who they were made to and all the rest of it.”

The Guardian earlier on Saturday published a letter to Shapps from former party chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi, sent in January, in which she asked him to take action against Clarke for abusing her on Twitter. The Conservative Party previously claimed that it had received no written complaints about Clarke.

Johnson’s parents told the Guardian in an interview that they wanted Shapps and current party chairman Andrew Feldman to stand down. Cameron’s office said the prime minister still has full confidence in Feldman, who is a friend from their time as students together at Oxford University.

“It is entirely understandable that they want answers, and it is very important that the inquiry underway establishes the facts,” Cameron said in his response to Shapps, in a reference to the Johnson family. “Our thoughts and prayers remain with them all at this incredibly difficult time.”

Shapps, who has been a member of the House of Commons since 2005, was appointed as minister responsible for Africa in the Department for International Development after the Conservatives won a surprise majority in the May 7 election. He was a housing minister in the coalition government which came to power in 2010 and appointed co-chairman in 2012.

Clarke has already been expelled from the party.

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