Labour suspends Prescott's ally

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A prominent Labour politician and friend of John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, has been suspended by the Labour Party over allegations that he assaulted three people at an election victory party.

Labour's National Executive Committee is investigating allegations that John Black, who is chairman of the Hull city party, attacked a former Humberside councillor, David Harris, and, John Cherry, the agent of the former Hull MP Stuart Randall, at a victory rally a week after last month's election.

The NEC is conducting a wider investigation into affairs in the Labour- dominated council which has been hit by a number of allegations of impropriety, including a statement last year by Mr Randall that the council was "corrupt". The council denied this vehemently.

Earlier this month, Pat Doyle, the leader of the council, said that he had asked the NEC to hold an investigation so that "the detractors (anonymous or named) will be asked to produce evidence to substantiate specific complaints".

Mr Black, who is also housing chairman of the city council, has been suspended by the NEC from holding any party office until an investigation into the affair is completed. A council spokesman said that he would continue as housing chairman because the suspension only related to Labour Party posts.

A Labour Party source said: "We are going to use this incident to carry out a full-scale inquiry into Hull as we have been worried about events there for some time." The remit is understood to include investigation of complaints about Mr Black's expenses when he was Lord Mayor two years ago. Mr Black has denied any wrongdoing.

A letter obtained by The Independent detailing the complaint from Mr Cherry says that he and Mr Harris were leaving the celebration when they were jumped on and abused by a group which included Mr Black.

Mr Black is a controversial local figure having pushed through the country's first Housing Action Trust, a Tory initiative that involved part-privatising council estates. His work on the council has been praised by Mr Prescott, the MP for Hull East.

Mr Randall stood down as an MP just before the election after a battle with Mr Black whom he was suing for libel because Mr Black alleged he was unsuitable to be an MP.

Mr Black issued a statement last night saying that the Labour Party had informed him that it was a "technical and administrative suspension to enable the inquiry to proceed." He declined to comment when contacted by The Independent.