A Tory activist from Spalding has been linked to a bullying storm engulfing the party which has cost one minister his job.
Sarah-Jane Sewell (21), who set up the South Holland and the Deepings branch of Conservative Future, has claimed that her decision to step down as the group’s National Deputy Chairman was partly due to her being “besmirched in the most abhorrent fashion”.
An internal investigation has been launched by the Tories into allegations that the death of ex-Spalding Grammar School student Elliott Johnson (21) was triggered partly by attacks against him from other activists.
One of them, Mark Clarke, was expelled from the Conservative Party last month and claims since then that senior party figures knew about the allegations led to Grant Shapps’ resignation as international development minister on Saturday.
In her resignation letter of July 25, 2014, Sarah-Jane said: “I myself have been besmirched in the most abhorrent fashion and I have little doubt that other opponents would be subjected to similar treatment from those who seemingly act with impunity.”
Sarah-Jane’s letter continued: “I have always tried to behave with the utmost integrity and honesty and, to this day, I have not conducted a single negative attack on an opponent.
“I do not believe such conduct is in the spirit of democracy that our party has always stood for and I am not prepared to appear to condone this by remaining in office.”
Sarah-Jane, an ex-Spalding High School student who now works for Boston and Skegness MP Matt Warman, joined the Conservatives in March 2011 after encouragement from a former teacher.
After joining the East Midlands executive of Conservative Future, the party’s youth movement formerly known as the Young Conservatives, Sarah-Jane was offered the role of vice-chairman of the group’s Lincolnshire branch.
In an interview with our sister newspaper, the Lincolnshire Free Press, in April 2013, Sarah-Jane said: “I’ve always been quite political and I joined the Conservative Party as a 17-year-old in March 2011 because it was the party I could most align my beliefs and aspirations with.
“Conservative Future is about engaging with young people so they can engage with what’s going on, in this country and around the world.
“I just want to help people, make life better for everyone and make Britain great.”
Sarah-Jane is reported to be among more than 40 “witnesses” who have given statements to Conservative Party officials since the bullying allegations first emerged after Elliott’s body was found on railway lines in Bedfordshire on September 15.
An inquest into Elliott’s death was opened and adjourned by Bedfordshire coroner Tom Osborne and the circumstances surrounding the death of the Conservative Future member from Wisbech are being investigated by British Transport Police.
Elliott’s dad Ray Johnson said: “There is no credibility in (the internal investigation) because how can the Conservative Party investigate itself?
“These allegations are far too serious for the Conservative Party to investigate themselves and there has to be an independent inquiry, headed by the police, for it to be effective.”
But South Holland District Council member Gary Taylor, who knew Elliott, said: “Whatever the outcome of the enquiry, it won’t bring Elliott back and his parents’ lives will never be the same again.
“At the end of the day, it’s a tragic loss of someone who was very energetic and enthusiastic about politics.”
A statement from the Board of the Conservative Party said: “The Party remains absolutely determined to establish the truth in relation to events surrounding the death of Elliott Johnson and the activities of Mark Clarke and others.
“Party officials, with legal support, continue to take written statements from over 40 witnesses while searching for and collating both material and written evidence.”