Boris Johnson's new administration in London is in crisis after he was forced to set up an independent inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment and financial irregularities against one of his deputies.
Ray Lewis, the deputy mayor for Young People, dismissed the claims as "malicious" and "totally unfounded", and received the unequivocal backing of the Mayor. It is a second setback for Mr Johnson in two weeks, following the resignation of the senior aide James McGrath after suggesting that Caribbean critics of the Conservative Mayor should go home.
Mr Lewis, a former Church of England priest and prison governor, was the most high profile of Mr Johnson's appointments after his victory over Ken Livingstone in May.
He has won widespread admiration in Tory ranks for setting up an after-school academy for black youngsters based on tough discipline.
The claims of sexual misconduct relate to his time as a vicar in the 1990s. The Church confirmed yesterday it had put him on a register in 1999 banning him from working as a priest.
Mr Lewis, 44, also faces allegations of financial irregularities. Channel 4 reported claims last night that parishioners entrusted him with money and encountered problems getting it back.
They included a woman who gave him £29,000, which he only repaid after the police became involved; a man with learning difficulties who gave him £8,000, which has never been returned; and another man who gave him £8,000, which Mr Lewis repaid with a cheque that bounced.
All claims were vehemently denied last night by Mr Lewis.
Earlier, in a bad-tempered press conference at City Hall, he told reporters: "I am not a saint, but I'm also not the person painted by these allegations. I have never harassed anyone, I have never defrauded anyone. These allegations are malicious – people are intentionally trying to smear me."
He said he did not realise he had been suspended from the Church and said he had never been questioned about the allegations. But the Right Rev John Gladwin, the Bishop of Chelmsford, told Channel 4 News last night that Mr Lewis's ministry had been restricted when "serious issues were raised about his conduct".
The bishop also disclosed that he and the Bishop of Barking had informed Mr Johnson's office about the situation when Mr Lewis was appointed deputy mayor. The Mayor was asked if he would sack Mr Lewis if any of the allegations proved to be true. Before he could reply, his deputy interjected: "Mr Lewis will resign from the post."
The Labour Party said last night that Mr Lewis should have been suspended during the investigation. But Mr Livingstone, speaking on his new show on the LBC 97.3 radio station, said his successor was right to stand up for his deputy.
"If you appoint somebody then there's allegations in the media and you get an absolute categorical assurance there's no truth in these, I think you should stand by them... What else can you do? Do you always sack or suspend anybody the moment there's the slightest allegation?"
So, who is Ray Lewis?
Ray Lewis is London's deputy mayor for young people. He was one of Boris Johnson's first and most high-profile appointments, and his term of office lasts as long as the Mayor's.
He has a key role in tackling youth violence, and under the terms of his job description must also "engender a culture of aspiration and ambition amongst young people in London".
He is charged with addressing the specific needs of groups within the capital's diverse population, ensuring equality of opportunities, and is required to consult young people on the Mayor's policies and involve them in decision making.Reuse content