Tory candidate 'should be sacked for doctoring photo'

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Labour called on Michael Howard today to sack a Conservative candidate who doctored a photograph of himself at a protest against the deportation of an asylum seeker for his campaign literature.

Labour called on Michael Howard today to sack a Conservative candidate who doctored a photograph of himself at a protest against the deportation of an asylum seeker for his campaign literature.

The original picture showed Ed Matts, the Conservative candidate for Dorset South, holding a placard with a picture of Verah Kachepa and her four children who were facing being returned to Malawi.

Alongside him, Tory former home office minister Ann Widdecombe is shown with a placard with the slogan "Let them stay".

But in the version which appeared on Mr Matts's campaign literature, the picture of Ms Kachepa is missing and has been replaced with the slogan "Controlled immigration", while Ms Widdecombe's slogan has been changed to read "Not chaos and inhumanity".

The crowd of protesters in the background in the original picture is also missing from the version in the leaflet.

Dorset South is number three on the Conservatives' list of target seats for May 5. Mr Howard's party requires a swing of just 0.17% to overturn Labour MP Jim Knight's 153 majority.

Mr Matts said in a statement: "I apologise for making a foolish mistake – I had no intention of causing any embarrassment. However, being involved in an individual asylum case is not inconsistent with the Conservative view that Britain's asylum system is in urgent need of attention."

Health Secretary John Reid said that if Mr Howard failed to sack Mr Matts as a candidate, he would be sending out a message to other candidates that they can "do anything they like to fuel a wholly negative campaign".

"To pose in one picture in support of an asylum seeker, and then doctor the same picture for a political stunt is sick," he said.

"Mr Matts is a disgrace to Dorset, a disgrace to politics, and would be a disgrace to Parliament if he were ever elected."

Shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin said Mr Matts had recognised that he he should not have changed the photograph and apologised. He insisted that both pictures were compatible with Conservative policy on immigration.

"Ed Matts has already apologised. He recognises that it was a silly mistake," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"The two photographs are both saying things which the Conservative Party believes are right. We should have a controlled system, it should not be chaotic, it should not be inhumane, we should protest about particular cases of inhumanity."

The Liberal Democrat deputy leader said: "Howard Flight was sacked by the Conservatives for telling the truth. Ed Matts should be sacked for telling lies."

Mr Howard admitted today that his candidate should not have doctored election photos but insisted he should still fight his seat.

Speaking on his visit to Torquay, he said: "It should not have been done and the candidate concerned has apologised for it – and so he should."

But Mr Howard, who stripped frontbencher Howard Flight of his seat for suggesting spending cuts would go further than advertised, insisted Mr Matts should not suffer the same fate.

"No, no, not at all. He has apologised. He should not have done what he did but he has apologised."

Mr Howard insisted the incident was not a sign of wider confusion in the party.

"We have a very, very clear message on immigration," he said.

"We believe that immigration is out of control in Britain today.

"I think it is very important in order that we have good community relations, that we have a proper grip on security and on the demands of our public services that we have controlled immigration with Parliament setting an annual limit.

"It could not be clearer."

Mr Matts told The Times that the photograph had been doctored because voters would not understand Tory policy is for "controlled immigration" and "humane limits on asylum applications".

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