Mark Clarke – dubbed the ‘Tatler Tory’ – threatened to squash “bullied” Conservative activist Elliott Johnson ‘like an ant’ a month before his suicide, an inquest heard on Tuesday.
Mr Clarke went “ballistic” and launched a vicious attack on Elliott during a friend’s birthday party at a pub in London on August 12 last year, it was heard.
He threatened to sue Elliott for breach of copyright over an image he used in an article he wrote while working for Conservative Way Forward (CWF).
In an official complaint Elliott made to his line manager Chrissy Boyle on August 13 over Mr Clarke’s behaviour, he said he grew more and more aggressive and grabbed his chin several times.
He said: “Mr Clarke said he had sued hundreds of people. He squashes them like ants when they are small and young. (He said) this is what I am going to do to you.
“He grabbed my chin to make sure I was looking at him.”
Elliott later withdrew the complaint after being “intimidated” by Mr Clarke.
Mr Clarke, a former chairman of the Conservative Future group who also headed the Tory’s 2015 General Election road trip, denies all the allegations.
University of Nottingham graduate Elliott killed himself by laying down on the train tracks in Sandy, Bedfordshire, on September 15.
DCI Sam Blackburn investigated his death and said Elliott had searched several suicide websites before his death.
He told the inquest that Mr Johnson bought a ticket online and went to London King’s Cross station at 3.19pm. He boarded a train to Sandy a 3.22pm, arriving at the station at 4.11pm.
The British Transport Police received a call from a train driver about something on the track at 6.42pm.
They later found Elliott’s body. He had laid down on the track a “considerable distance” of about 1km from the station.
A post mortem revealed he suffered severe head trauma which was consistent with being hit by a train.
Following his death, police searched his house in London where they found three letters with a picture of Elliott with his parents on his graduation day.
One was addressed to his parents. It said: “I have also been involved in a huge political issue. I have been bullied by Mark Clarke and betrayed by Andre Walker.
“I had to wrongly turn my back on my friends. Now all my political bridges are burnt.
“Where can I even go from here? If only I had done the right thing in my heart first and not been caught up in the fake idea of a right wing movement. But that is that.”
The other one was called ‘bullies and betrayers’ and said: “I would write you a hate message but actions speak louder than words. I was never one for hate but I think this should be on your mind. Elliott.”
The final one was called “friends and allies” and said: “I have failed you” in large letters. On the reverse it said ‘sorry’.
Speaking at the inquest, Conservative Way Foward chief executive Paul Abbott said Mr Clarke hated him and bullied and intimidated several activists including Elliott Johnson.
Mr Abbott said that Mr Clarke’s “entrenched” hatred of his organisation increased when young Tory activists scared of him came to him wanting to join CWF.
He also saw Elliott taking a job as a political editor with Mr Abbott as a betrayal after he had worked on the RoadTrip campaign in 2014.
He said Mr Clarke was on a “warpath” and added: “It wasn’t just a dislike, it was something of a vendetta. That is the climate which Elliott and other young activists experienced.
“We tried to initially ignore Mark Clarke and avoid him. Then we tried complaining but that didn’t seem to work.”
He then described how Mr Clarke’s behaviour deteriorated as time progressed.
He said: “Clarke’s behaviour deteriorated very much. What started in July as comparatively low level stupid things became threats in August which by September became things that I think are potentially criminal.”
Mr Abbott said that Elliott wasn’t the only victim and one female activist had effectively had a nervous breakdown because of her treatment.
But he denied allegations that him losing his full-time job on September 2 had anything to do with Elliott launching a formal complaint against Mr Clarke.
The inquest heard that Elliott had a history of mental health issues and had tried to kill himself three times before.
In March 2011 he threw himself in a river near his home in Wisbech but after floating downstream he climbed out of the river. Then in May that year he tried to poison himself by eating Yew tree leaves following the death of his friend Michael in a road accident. In October 2011 he tried to hang himself in a nightclub using a tie but it snapped.
He was referred to a mental health support team by his GP after going to see him with his mother after the hanging attempt. A toxicology report found that when he died he had 103 mm of alcohol in his blood, just above the drink drive limit of 80.
Speaking after the hearing, Elliott Johnson’s father Ray said: “The evidence has shown the intense pressure that Elliott was under in the last weeks of his life.
“We didn’t have big expectations for today but the inquest is simply the first step in our quest for accountability.
“We accept the fact that Elliott took his own life but we are not happy with the fact the coroner, having earlier in the day precluded consideration of Elliott’s complaint and redundancy letter, later made a verdict that supported CWF.
“The coroner made it very clear in March that he had a very limited scope.
“We had pressed to widen the scope because we believe there is a serious public interest (in exposing) what happened to Elliott.
“Going beyond CWF, Mark Clarke and Andre Walker back into the Conservative Party. The coroner has precluded that but that doesn’t, of course, stop us from taking it a stage further now. We can now take it to the next stage of the legal process.”