Long-serving Portslade councillor Les Hamilton has been accused of hiding a £100,000 bequest to the Labour Party and breaking electoral law.
But this evening Councillor Hamilton, the council’s lead member for finance, said: “I’ve never taken a penny out of the Labour Party. I’ve got a clear conscience.”
The claims were made in a blog by journalist Greg Hadfield, a suspended member of the party who also belongs to Momentum, which was set up to support Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The claims relate to the way that money resulting from a Labour supporter’s will has been accounted for over some years.
They form part of the continuing tussle between different wings of the party, with roots in a similar battle in the early 1990s.
Ben Gowlett, whose legacy is at the heart of the claims, appears to have intended his bequest to stay out of the hands of Labour’s left wing.
Mr Hadfield said: “There’s no suggestion anyone’s done this for personal gain.”
But rules had been broken, including electoral law as well as party rules, Mr Hadfield said, adding: “It’s been formally referred to the Labour Party legal department.”
Councillor Hamilton, a former Hove secondary school teacher who was first elected 47 years ago, said that he had not read the blog post.
He said: “I’m not even going to read it. There’s no point me reading it and getting worked up about it.”
Hove MP Peter Kyle said: “These tawdry allegations are nothing more than a cheap attempt at character assassination. Les Hamilton has an unimpeachable record and is the epitome of decency.
“It is unwarranted and underhanded and I hope Les treats it with the contempt it deserves.
“Les was a friend of Ben Gowlett and better placed than anyone to know how best to execute his wishes as set out in his will – unlike those behind these partisan smear attempts.
“Anyone who knows Les knows that he is totally trustworthy and will treat this nonsense with the contempt that it deserves.”
Mr Hadfield said: “The money … has never appeared in Labour Party accounts submitted to the Electoral Commission.
“Moreover, the money was never considered when party assets were assessed in the run up to Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party (the city party) being formed in 2011.
“Nor, crucially, was (it) taken into consideration – or even mentioned – when the city party was split back into three CLPs (constituency Labour parties) in 2016.
“I know many party members who joined in the last two years will find it surprising – even shocking – that, in the bad old days, only the most cursory overview of party finances was made available to members.
“And then only occasionally, never routinely. Never in detail. The books stayed firmly closed.
“It is important to stress here that nothing in this article should be construed as suggesting that anyone mentioned sought personal gain.
“However … a few individuals exercised power and control. And they used subterfuge and secrecy to help them maintain an undemocratic hold on the party and its finances.”
Mr Hadfield said: “A total of £59,230 was donated between 2010 and 2015 to various Labour Party entities – apparently by ‘trustees’ in the name of Mr Gowlett.”
Trustees is the term used in Mr Gowlett’s will for the executors, Councillor Hamilton and solicitor David Stockman.
The money arising from the will was placed in an account set up by the late Don Turner, a former Portslade councillor and branch treasurer.
Councillor Hamilton said that he was a signatory to the account, with the terms trustee and signatory being used interchangeably. He took over as treasurer after Mr Turner’s death in 2014.
Mr Hadfield said that since he started investigating the Gowlett legacy, the remaining sum, about £60,000, had been recorded in party accounts for the first time.
One local party member, who asked not to be named, said: “The fund was regularly mentioned at branch meetings but it was made clear that it was a separate fund from ordinary branch accounts. This was always accepted by all members present at meetings.
“It has only been since (former Wish Ward councillor) Anne Pissaridou and Greg Hewitt, a Momentum activist, have become involved in the Portslade branch (as branch officers) that it has become an issue.
“Anne Pissaridou accepted funding for her campaign in Wish from the Ben Gowlett monies when she stood for re-election and the fund regularly made donations to the Wish branch when she was a councillor there, for newsletters.
“She was aware of this and never questioned it. Greg has failed to mention this.
“Greg Hadfield is presumably accusing Les Hamilton of being underhand, even dishonest, in his dealings with the local party, or incarnations of it, in regards to these funds.
“Anyone who even slightly knows Les is aware that he is the most honest and straight person you could ever hope to meet.
“Quite what Greg hopes to achieve by acting in this way I don’t know – but I know who the residents of Portslade would rather trust.”
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