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Diane Abbott reports Tory donor Frank Hester to police as Sunak finally calls comment ‘racist and wrong’

Diane Abbott has reported the Conservative Party’s biggest ever donor to the police after he was alleged to have said the MP “should be shot”, The Independent can reveal.

The MP filed a complaint with the Metropolitan Police’s parliamentary liaison and investigations team after Frank Hester, who donated £10m to the Tories last year, allegedly made a series of incendiary comments about her, including that she made him “want to hate all Black women”.

It came as a Tory row erupted over the furore, with minister Kemi Badenoch breaking ranks with senior colleagues to describe Mr Hester’s alleged remarks as “racist”.

Former Conservative leader William Hague and ex-chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng also used the same language to condemn the businessman’s comments – despite Downing Street initially refusing to label them as racist.

Eventually, a day after the row first broke out, the prime minister’s spokesperson said the comments were “racist and wrong”.

Ms Abbott, who is currently suspended by Labour, described Mr Hester’s reported comments as ‘frightening’ (Getty/iStock/PA)
Ms Abbott, who is currently suspended by Labour, described Mr Hester’s reported comments as ‘frightening’ (Getty/iStock/PA)

The dramatic revelation came as:

  • Ms Abbott, who is currently suspended by Labour, described Mr Hester’s reported comments as “frightening”

  • Mr Hester appeared to suggest the remarks were made “playfully without seeking to cause offence”

  • A Black former Downing Street adviser to Boris Johnson said Mr Hester should make amends by using his wealth to fight racism

  • Two ministers refused to condemn the alleged remarks as racist

  • Baroness Chakrabarti called on the prime minister to “put his own house in order” before lecturing others on extremism

  • Labour and the Liberal Democrats called on the Tories to return Mr Hester’s donation

Mr Hester, chief executive of The Phoenix Partnership (TPP) is reported to have said while speaking about a female executive from another company: “It’s like trying not to be racist but you see Diane Abbott on the TV, and you’re just like… you just want to hate all Black women because she’s there.

“And I don’t hate all Black women at all, but I think she should be shot. [The executive] and Diane Abbott need to be shot.”

He later admitted making “rude” comments about Ms Abbott but said they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

But, in a statement issued on Tuesday morning, Ms Abbott, Britain’s longest-serving Black MP, had described the reported comments as “worrying”.

“It is frightening. I live in Hackney, I don’t drive, so I find myself, at weekends, popping on a bus or even walking places, more than most MPs,” she said.

“I am a single woman and that makes me vulnerable anyway. But to hear someone talking like this is worrying.”

Ms Abbott had the Labour whip suspended in April 2023 (Reuters)
Ms Abbott had the Labour whip suspended in April 2023 (Reuters)

She added: “For all of my career as an MP I have thought it important not to live in a bubble but to mix and mingle with ordinary people. The fact that two MPs have been murdered in recent years makes talk like this all the more alarming.”

Her statement came after Tory ministers Mel Stride and Graham Stuart both refused to say the comments were racist on Tuesday morning. Mr Stride criticised the remarks but said they were not “gender-based or race-based” while Mr Stuart, when asked whether he accepted the comments were racist, said: “I find it absolutely unacceptable. I hesitate to stick that particular label on it.”

The PM’s spokesperson had refused to answer whether the alleged comments about Ms Abbott amounted to racism, saying only that they would be “unacceptable”. Only this evening did No 10 make a stand.

Mr Sunak’s spokesperson said: “The comments allegedly made by Frank Hester were racist and wrong. He has now rightly apologised for the offence caused and where remorse is shown it should be accepted.

“The prime minister is clear there is no place for racism in public life and as the first British-Asian prime minister leading one of the most ethnically diverse cabinets in our history, the UK is living proof of that fact.”

But Ms Badenoch, the business secretary and equalities minister, broke cover earlier in saying: “Hester’s 2019 comments, as reported, were racist. I welcome his apology. Abbott and I disagree on a lot. But the idea of linking criticism of her to being a Black woman is appalling.

“It’s never acceptable to conflate someone’s views with the colour of their skin. MPs have a difficult job balancing multiple interests – often under threats of intimidation as we saw recently in parliament. Some people make flippant comments without thinking of this context. This is why there needs to be space for forgiveness where there is contrition.”

Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson refused multiple times to describe Mr Hester’s comments as ‘racist’, until doing so on Tuesday evening (Daniel Leal/PA Wire)
Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson refused multiple times to describe Mr Hester’s comments as ‘racist’, until doing so on Tuesday evening (Daniel Leal/PA Wire)

Mr Sunak was also at odds with former Tory leader Lord Hague, who also highlighted Mr Hester’s “fulsome apology” but told Times Radio: “The comment, connecting dislike of Diane Abbott with racial characteristics. Well, that is racist.”

Mr Kwarteng said Mr Hester’s comments were “clearly racist and clearly sexist”. He told BBC Two’s Politics Live: “They are clearly racist and they are clearly sexist … they were very stupid remarks.”

A statement released via Mr Hester’s firm on Monday said that he was “deeply sorry” and had rung Ms Abbott twice “to try to apologise directly for the hurt he has caused her”.

“Frank Hester accepts that he was rude about Diane Abbott in a private meeting several years ago but his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin,” the statement said.

Mr Hester “abhors racism, not least because he experienced it as the child of Irish immigrants in the 1970s”, the statement said, adding: “He wishes to make it clear that he regards racism as a poison which has no place in public life.” In response to a request by the BBC, a spokesperson for Mr Hester said the statement is not a confirmation of the alleged quotes in The Guardian.

Mr Hester later issued a statement which appeared to suggest his comments were made “playfully without seeking to cause offence”.

Sir Keir Starmer hit out at the alleged remarks, describing Ms Abbott as a “trailblazer” who has “paved the way for others” and “probably faced more abuse than any other politician over the years on a sustained basis”.

Keir Starmer praised Diane Abbott and said the Conservatives should hand back Mr Hester’s donations (Ian West/PA Wire)
Keir Starmer praised Diane Abbott and said the Conservatives should hand back Mr Hester’s donations (Ian West/PA Wire)

Denouncing the alleged remarks as “just abhorrent”, the Labour leader told ITV’s Lorraine show: “I’m sorry, this apology this morning that is pretending that what was said wasn’t racist or anything to do with the fact she’s a woman, I don’t buy that, I’m afraid, and I think that it’s time the Tory Party called it out and returned the money.”

Shami Chakrabarti, a Labour peer and friend of Ms Abbott, said the Hackney MP was “anxious” and “upset” by Mr Hester’s alleged comments.

In an emotional interview, Baroness Chakrabarti told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “If the gentleman in question, Mr Hester, used these words in that sequence, then those statements about Diane and all Black women, and references to people being shot and so on, that is terrifying hate speech.”

She added: “She has put up with so much over so many decades as the first Black woman MP in our country and I say to the prime minister, I say to the prime minister, our first non-white prime minister, please, please do something about this.

“You stood last week on the steps of Downing Street and you said you wanted to tackle extremism. We’ve got Mr Gove who’s going to put out some new broad definition of extremism.

“There’s lots of divisive politics being played here and yet they won’t call out what’s happening in their own party at the highest echelons.”

Samuel Kasumu said Mr Hester’s apology was not enough (Samuel Kasumu/Twitter)
Samuel Kasumu said Mr Hester’s apology was not enough (Samuel Kasumu/Twitter)

Author and member of the Tory party Samuel Kasumu had said earlier Mr Hester’s apology was not enough and that he must use his “time and resources” to show he was sorry for his comments about the Labour MP.

Liverpool Riverside MP Kim Johnson, a member of parliament’s all-party group on race, told The Independent that Ms Abbott is a “trailblazer” who “deserves our respect”.

She said: “Frank Hester’s comments were not ‘unfortunate’; they most certainly did have everything to do with Diane Abbott’s gender and the colour of her skin. And not just hers but, according to him, every Black woman.

“Blatant racisms that Frank Hester’s allies in the Conservative Party are trying to downplay because cash in the bank is more important than standing with women who face racism, women who face threats of abuse.

“The most vilified MP in parliament, a trailblazer who led the way for so many other female Black MPs – including myself – Diane deserves our respect.”

A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said: “On Monday, 11 March, officers from the parliamentary liaison and investigation team were contacted in relation to a report about an MP that appeared in The Guardian. We are assessing the matter and are liaising with West Yorkshire Police as the alleged incident is believed to have taken place in Leeds. Officers from the parliamentary liaison and investigation team remain in contact with the MP.”