Blair taunted over 'terrorist'

Candidate's past: Anti-apartheid campaigner who planted bombs has Labour's full support for election

John Rentoul@JohnRentoul
Sunday 04 October 2015 23:59

Conservative MPs yesterday seized on the "terrorist" past of a Labour candidate, John Lloyd, who is well-placed to win the Tory marginal seat of Exeter at the next election.

Mr Lloyd, 54, is still not forgiven by some South African anti-apartheid campaigners for giving evidence in 1965 against a fellow member of the African Resistance Movement, John Harris, who was hanged for planting a bomb in Johannesburg railway station which killed a 77-year-old woman.

But in the Commons, Tory MPs raised Mr Lloyd's role in planting bombs himself. Mr Lloyd insisted: "I had planted bombs, but only on symbolic targets like radio masts and electricity pylons. I was a very small fish. I was the bloke who drove the car, basically."

Mr Lloyd, who gave evidence against his colleague in return for immunity, was released after the trial and emigrated to Britain, where he became a barrister, joined the Labour Party and became an Exeter city councillor. He fought the Exeter seat in the last election and was chosen in the summer to fight it again.

David Lidington, Tory MP for Aylesbury and parliamentary aide to Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, tried to embarrass Tony Blair by asking the Prime Minister to comment on Labour's "selection of a self-confessed terrorist as their candidate".

John Major replied: "I am totally opposed to any act of terrorism and I've no doubt the majority of the people in Exeter will feel the same way."

Brian Mawhinney, the Tory chairman, later wrote to Mr Blair, demanding that Mr Lloyd be dropped as a candidate. The Labour leader's office accused Dr Mawhinney of "throwing dirt" and said Mr Blair would not reply.

Mr Lloyd claimed the revival of the 30-year-old incident, in yesterday's left-wing Tribune newspaper, arose from a "personal vendetta" to replace him as the Labour candidate for a winnable seat.

"It was an extremely distressing period and it is something that has marked my life ever since," he said. "If I had been a free agent I wouldn't have done it. I was in detention under interrogation and ... I saw John Harris as someone who had broken our code; we had a code of not endangering human life."

He said he was beaten and forced to stand "for days on end - they broke me down and I gave evidence against Harris under duress".

A Labour Party spokeswoman said yesterday that Mr Lloyd had given a full account of his past to his selection meeting, and had the full confidence of the local party. "I have always been up-front about my past and I am still a dedicated anti-apartheid campaigner," Mr Lloyd said.

After being interviewed by the Labour General Secretary, Tom Sawyer, He was approved as a candidate by the party's National Executive at the same meeting which refused to endorse left-winger Liz Davies.

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