Party lawyer concedes: “No stain on your character”
25 February 2014
UKIP has reinstated Paul Henke, its Scottish ex-chairman, as “a member in good standing” and has told him there is no stain on his character.
Last week a judge in the Central London County Court lifted a 100-year suspension of Mr Henke’s party membership.
The party chairman’s first reaction, an hour after the judgment, was to arrange for his secretary to send Mr Henke an email directly contradicting the judge and describing as purely “nominal” his 100-year suspension for the offence of having told a newspaper UKIP was “an honourable party”.
Her Honour Judge Taylor had said the 100-year fatwa amounted to expulsion and was beyond the party chairman’s powers under the rules. She added that no evidence had been put before the court that the party chairman had paid due regard to proportionality in effectively expelling Mr Henke.
After a stiff letter from Mr Henke, the party eventually realized that it might be held in contempt of court. UKIP’s in-house lawyer wrote to Mr Henke to say it was now accepted that “the decision by the Chairman to invoke his urgent powers was null and void for want of procedure”, and that there would be no need to convene an emergency disciplinary panel.
The lawyer wrote: “You remain a member in good standing within the Party without a stain on your character and … no note of any adverse decision should be recorded against your Party membership.”
Judge Taylor ordered UKIP to pay most of Mr Henke’s costs. UKIP now faces total costs of some £30,000.
Mr Henke said: “I am pleased that the party has come to its senses. This has been a worrying few weeks for my wife Dorothy and me. But now we are in the clear. The court made a particular point of saying that I had acted very reasonably throughout this affair.”
He added: “Banning me for 100 years was plainly disproportionate, particularly as the statement I had made when approached by a reporter from the Sunday Herald had been mild and polite.”
The reporter had discovered that Mr Henke was one of ten UKIP members who had complained to UKIP’s HQ in London that David Coburn, appointed by London as the lead candidate for the party in the forthcoming European Elections, had told lies about his fellow candidates on national television.
The party chairman had purported to exercise emergency powers to expel Mr Henke on the grounds that he should not have complained about Mr Coburn (though the party’s rules allow this); that he should not have told the newspaper about his complaint (but the newspaper already knew about it from another source before it rang him); and that he had privately told another party member that he would oppose Mr Coburn’s candidature (but Mr Henke had made no such comment and, even if he had, it would not have breached UKIP’s rules).
The judge, in a precedent-setting move, annulled the party chairman’s decision. Usually, the courts do not interfere in private membership organizations such as UKIP. On this occasion, however, the party chairman had breached a specific obligation of proportionality by giving Mr Henke so severe a punishment, so the court unhesitatingly set it aside.
The judge refused UKIP permission to appeal either the decision or the award of costs substantially in favour of Mr Henke.
Mr Henke’s claim for £3000 ordinary damages and £1000 exemplary damages has yet to be heard by the court. However, the judge who heard the application for an expedited hearing commented that Mr Henke had asked for too little money, and had added: “The damages you have sought are in a nominal sum. The reality is far more important.”
Lord Monckton, the former leader of UKIP Scotland, who had successfully argued before the court that an early hearing should be granted, said: “The court has restored Paul’s membership and reputation. He is very popular in Scotland, and his many friends and colleagues in UKIP Scotland are delighted at the news. We have had support and even contributions to our heavy costs from UKIP members all over Britain.”
A senior UKIP Scotland source said the future of UKIP’s party chairman, Steve Crowther, and its in-house lawyer, Matthew Richardson, was now gravely in doubt. On Sunday, a meeting of almost 100 UKIP supporters at the Albert Halls, Stirling, expressed strong support for Mr Henke and demanded greater autonomy for UKIP Scotland to prevent abuses of the disciplinary process in future.