Blow for Boris as deputy is forced to quit

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Indy Politics

Boris Johnson's deputy Ray Lewis resigned yesterday over sleaze allegations, plunging London's Mayor into his first serious crisis since taking over from Ken Livingstone.

Mr Lewis announced he was quitting to prevent further damage but his original appointment will raise lasting doubts about Mr Johnson's judgement.

The Mayor last night promised to reinstate Mr Lewis if he cleared his name. Mr Johnson said: "It is with extreme reluctance and sadness that I have accepted the resignation of Ray Lewis.

"He has a God-given power and ability to inspire young people and divert them from catastrophic mistakes with guns and knives. I very much hope he will be left alone to clear his name."

"I cannot deny, however, that my confidence in Ray was shaken by the discovery that he is not a fully fledged justice of the peace and I cannot deny that to be misled on this issue has made it harder for me to give Ray the backing necessary to continue in his role."

Only 24 hours earlier, Mr Johnson had stood by in City Hall as Mr Lewis, his spokesman for young people in the capital, said he had no intention of resigning, despite the launch of an investigation. He dismissed claims that he had borrowed money from parishioners when he was a practising priest.

The resignation is not only damaging to Mr Johnson but also to David Cameron who held up Mr Lewis, 45, as a shining example of a black youth leader who tackled youth problems in the East End with "tough love". He was the first person Mr Cameron visited after his election as party leader.

Protesting his innocence, Mr Lewis appeared on his own to issue a statement at City Hall saying he was quitting because the "barrage of allegations, unfounded in my opinion" had continued. He said: "The effects on my family are beginning to tell and to show and that must stop."

He said Mr Johnson was a "great mayor and a mayor of courage". "But I cannot allow things that I have been into, up to and around me to obscure the important business of this mayoralty and for that reason, I must step down as deputy mayor for young people with immediate effect."

Mr Lewis, a former vicar in the East End of London, was also challenged over his assertion that he remained a priest in spite of assertions by senior clergy that he had been suspended for past misdemeanors.

The tipping point came after he was accused of misleading the public over his claims that he was a justice of the peace. His honesty was publicly challenged by Jack Straw's Justice Department in a statement bluntly contradicting Mr Lewis. "He has not been appointed as a magistrate," it said.

Mr Johnson's aides said he had been kept completely in the dark about the discrepancies in Mr Lewis's record.

There were also fears the Mayor would have to contend with more sleaze allegations against Mr Lewis. The allegations started when one of the parishioners from whom Mr Lewis was alleged to have borrowed money said she had loaned him £29,000 in 1995 for an investment scheme but she did not get it back until 2005.

On Thursday, Mr Lewis flatly denied knowledge of the loans. It was also alleged he borrowed £8,000 from a parishioner with learning difficulties, which he denied. None of the allegations led to any criminal charges.

His resignation is the second to damage Mr Johnson's team. Last month, one of his senior advisers, James McGrath, quit after apparently saying Caribbean immigrants should go home if they did not like London.

London Assembly member Murad Quereshi said: "We have already lost one senior advisor and now we have lost Ray Lewis. It makes you wonder what the future holds for this administration."

What they said

"Ray's dynamic but strict approach has given countless opportunities to hundreds of young men. Now I want to spread that magic across London." Boris Johnson, 5 May

"I have every confidence in Ray Lewis and I think he is a tremendous deputy mayor and a great asset to London." Boris Johnson, 3 July

"I cannot allow the things that I have been into, up to and around me to obscure the important business of this mayoral team. For this reason I must step down as deputy mayor for young people." Ray Lewis, 4 July