The chief race relations adviser to the Mayor of London resigned last night, claiming he was the victim of a "racist" and "relentless media campaign".
Lee Jasper stood down after fresh allegations in London's Evening Standard yesterday. The newspaper alleged that the49-year-old had sent a series of explicit emails to a woman linked to two organisations that benefited from hundreds of thousands of pounds in grants from City Hall.
Mr Jasper, who was suspended from his £120,000-a-year post last month pending a police investigation into public money used to finance community groups, was due to appear before the London Assembly today to answer questions in connection with the claims.
But Ken Livingstone's aide said he would be quitting to prevent further overshadowing the Mayor's re-election bid in May against his Conservative challenger Boris Johnson.
"It has become clear that a number of matters which are not of first importance in London are being used to distract from the crucial questions in the election campaign. The racist nature of a relentless media campaign and the consequent effects on myself and my family have placed an intolerable strain on all of us," he said in his resignation letter to the Mayor.
Mr Johnson immediately seized on the Mayor's difficulties, saying the departure was "further proof that Ken Livingstone has had his day". He added: "He has repeatedly said he is directly responsible for the actions of his advisers and he should take Jasper's place and answer the questions that Jasper won't. Otherwise Londoners can only conclude he is arrogant and out of touch. Londoners deserve to know where their hard-earned cash has gone."
A spokesman for the Greater London Authority paid tribute to Mr Jasper's "outstanding" achievements. The spokesman said: "Racist attacks have been reduced by more than a half in eight years and, last year, racist attacks rose by 12 per cent in the UK as a whole but fell by 14 per cent in London."
The Evening Standard and its journalist Andrew Gilligan have relentlessly pursued the story, claiming that vast sums of public cash have been channelled into projects with little or no benefit for ordinary Londoners. The newspaper last night dismissed claims that its inquiries had been racially motivated. "We have always insisted that the Mayor has to be held to account for the actions of Lee Jasper who he personally appointed, and the way London Development Agency grants have been approved and managed. It was never a question of racism. While the Evening Standard welcomed police investigations into how grants have been spent, it did not call for them," the newspaper said.
The final straw came yesterday with a report detailing embarrassingly intimate exchanges between Mr Jasper, who has nine children, and Karen Chouhan, who is married with three children, in 2006. She denied there had been any impropriety in the money paid to either of the groups with which she was involved, the 1990 Trust and the Black Londoners' Forum.
A code of ethics governing the Mayor's staff requires them to disclose any "close personal" relationships with groups that receive funding.
Of the emails, one of which praised her "feet, ankles, legs, thighs, bum and belly, arms, head and brain", Ms Chouhan said they were examples of the senior aide getting carried away. "Lee's mistake is to put stuff down... He writes too much banter and a lot of rubbish, and that's his mistake," she said.