Tory minister Grant Shapps has been dragged into the party's ongoing bullying and suicide scandal after Conservative Party Headquarters (CCHQ) admitted he brought Mark Clarke into their general election campaign.
Serious allegations of inappropriate behaviour have been levelled against Clarke after young Tory activist Elliott Johnson, 21, took his own life in September and reportedly named the Road Trip 2015 chief in a note left in his bedroom on the day of his death. Clarke has denied the allegations.
But the British Transport Police have since launched an investigation into the bullying claims after finding Johnson's body by train tracks in Bedfordshire.
What you need to know
- Conservative Future is the youth wing of the party
- Road Trip was founded by Mark Clarke and bussed in activists to campaign in key seats
- The Conservatives and British Transport Police are both investigating Elliot Johnson's death
"Our officers continue to investigate the circumstances leading to the death of Elliott Johnson, which will be passed to the coroner in due course," a spokesperson for the force said. "As with all cases, once we have completed our investigation a decision will be made as to whether any further action is needed."
The Conservatives have also started their own investigation into the allegations led by Lord Andrew Feldman. However, the probe has been blasted by Johnson's father, Ray, as a "cover up".
The Mail on Sunday has been leading the investigation in the media and the BBC's Newsnight programme revealed on 18 November that Tory MP Ben Howlett, a former Conservative Future (CF) chairman, had alerted party bosses, including Feldman and Lady Sayeeda Warsi, to bullying and harassment complaints against Clarke over a "long period".
The Conservatives expelled Clarke for life before the Newsnight broadcast and the party had previously suspended the national executive of CF, who had links to the Road Trip founder.
Howlett also said he took the complaints to the "chairman's office" when Shapps took charge of the role and the Tories later revealed that the now International Development minister brought Clarke into their general election campaign.
"After the general election in 2010, all candidates on the old approved list were asked to re-apply for the new list," the party said in a statement.
"Those who applied were interviewed by an assessment panel and a recommendation was put to the candidates committee. Several hundred candidates were not invited back on to the list, including Mark Clarke."
"Mark Clarke established RoadTrip2015 on his own initiative to campaign in key constituencies in the run-up to the general election. In 2014, Grant Shapps asked Mark Clarke to work in conjunction with the party's Team 2015 [the party's own volunteer activist organisation].
"We have been unable to find any written complaints of bullying, harassment or any other inappropriate behaviour during this period that were not dealt with ... The party is continuing with its internal inquiry that began in August 2015 in response to a formal complaint, received by Lord Feldman, about the behaviour of Mark Clarke.
"Once this process is completed, Lord Feldman has asked Simon Davis, a senior partner at Clifford Chance LLP, to ensure that the investigation has been thorough and complete. The party board will then consider the evidence and decide on the appropriate course of action.
"We would encourage any potential witnesses to continue to come forward, and ask that any evidence of written complaints or other relevant material be made available to the party so that we can continue with our investigation and complete it properly."
Meanwhile, deputy Conservative chairman and minister without portfolio Robert Halfon was also caught up in the scandal after he admitted having an affair with a young Tory activist. "What I did was wrong, and I feel ashamed. I am not proud of myself," he said in a statement. "The most important thing to me is to continue to repair my relationship with my partner."
The latest development came to light after the Mail on Sunday claimed Clarke was allegedly planning to blackmail Halfon over the affair in return for "political favours". Clarke told the paper: "I strongly refute any suggestion of bullying, harassment or intended/attempted blackmail."
Grant Shapps' parliamentary office had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.