Party finds Davies 'innocent'


Political Correspondent

The Labour row over the banning of left-winger Liz Davies as a parliamentary candidate intensified yesterday after party headquarters confirmed that there had been no finding of guilt on charges against her.

The admission came in a letter to the 31-year-old barrister from Mike Penn, Labour's national constituency officer, who acted as secretary to the dispute committee which recommended by 4-1 that the national executive committee veto her candidacy for the Leeds North East constituency. "I can confirm, in the words of the report [to the NEC], 'the committee does not see itself as making a judgement on the truth or otherwise of any specific allegations'," Mr Penn wrote.

The letter came in reply to a complaint from Ms Davies to Tom Sawyer, Labour's general secretary, who told journalists on Wednesday that Ms Davies had been refused endorsement because of the cumulative effect of her defying the Labour whip as an Islington councillor, her actions on the poll tax and her previous loyalties to the left-wing journal Labour Briefing. Ms Davies complained the implication was that she was guilty.

Ms Davies, who will seek to rally opinion behind her in a series of fringe meetings at next week's party conference, said: "This is a clear verdict of not guilty ... The letter also makes it starkly clear that the only reason I have not been endorsed is my political views."

Some Leeds North East members emphasised yesterday they were not "strident" and a general committee meeting on Thursday decided to defer a decision on legal action until after next week's conference. But Andy Hollas, the constituency chairman, said: "The letter strengthens the grounds for taking legal advice, because the refusal to endorse was done for purely political reasons."

Ms Davies also told the Independent that she intended to issue libel writs against three Islington councillors, Tal Michael, James Purnell and Phil Kelly, unless they retracted allegations that she had "incited violence" and barracked and heckled at an education committee meeting into the closure of a school playground.

More than a dozen constituency parties have either tabled motions for an emergency conference debate next week or pledged support.

Minimum wage row, page 2

Can Blair cope, page 19