Tory official lose appeal after causing antisemitic ‘nightmare’

Oliver Dowden discusses Gavin Williamson and Wendy Morton

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Five Conservative Party officials in Hertsmere have lost an appeal against an earlier ruling which found them to have been part of a “personal campaign” against a Labour candidate that “encouraged others to send antisemitic posts or messages”. The target of the attacks, Dr Dan Ozarow, now a Labour councillor, said he was relieved by the decision but questioned the decision not to suspend those involved.

Dr Ozarow had stood in a by-election in the council’s Borehamwood Kenilworth ward in 2020, and following the vote claimed he had been subjected to abuse fuelled by the opposition party.

In an open letter at the time, the lecturer at Middlesex University, who is Jewish, said he was “branded a terrorist sympathiser, a Marxist, a self-hating Jew, and they spread lies about me being a member of the JVL [Jewish Voice for Labour, a pro-Corbyn group] and Elstree Liberation Front”.

He added that he had “been told to go and die in the gas chambers” and, in one Facebook post, was called a “Jew-hating Jew C**t”.

Dr Ozarow was also told that he “lacked a Jewish soul”. Hertsmere has one of the largest Jewish populations outside of London, and is a predominantly Tory-voting area.

One of the campaign tactics that allegedly spurred on the hateful remarks included a digital billboard outside a local train station which suggested he supported Hezbollah. The group also sent out letters to residents making similar assertions.

A panel of party members led by independent KC Richard Price found in April that Councillors Brett Rosehill – who won the by-election before Dr Ozarow won another in the same ward the following year – Paul Morris and Glenn Briski had been “party to a personal campaign against the claimant” which had continued “for many months”.

A report into the matter confirmed that the “negative campaigning” by the local Conservative Association “may well have encouraged others to sent antisemitic posts or messages to the complainant”. It said the conduct “amounted to negative personal campaigning, which falls below the standards expected by the Conservative Party of its representatives”.

Morris Bright, Hertsmere council leader, meanwhile did not take steps “to rein in the activities of these councillors”. Similar criticism was made of the local Tory party’s election agent, Jane West. All five received reprimands from the party and were told to attend training.

At the same time, the national Conservative Party was co-chaired by the local MP, Oliver Dowden, who is now the Minister for the Duchy of Lancaster. The complaints process was amended after the ruling to allow for appeals, which the five officials then pursued.

However, it has now emerged that the appeals have been denied by the party’s Individual Member Review Committee, as “no new evidence had been submitted which could have made a material difference to the outcome”. Cllr Morris quit the Tory party last month, voiding his appeal.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, Dr Ozarow said the ordeal had been “a nightmare for my family and me”, but that the outcome “does give me a sense of closure”, despite what he saw as minimal punishment.

He added: “Sitting in a council chamber opposite four of my tormentors filled me with dread at first. To have to face the people whom I knew had been responsible for orchestrating such a vicious hate campaign against me, who had caused so much anxiety to my heavily pregnant wife at the time of the by-election.

“With time, that became easier I began to lose my fears and, actually it spurred me on to do the best I can for those in my town and the community I represent who supported me so strongly after everything we went through.”

Dr Ozarow criticised Mr Dowden, saying: “I don’t understand how he is allowed to remain in Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet, especially given that the Prime Minister says that he wants to bring ‘integrity’ and ‘accountability’ to his Government.

“To me, Oliver Dowden can say that he feels a ‘cultural affinity’ with Jews, but his actions suggest that it is just a cheap line he uses to shore up support from the sizable Jewish community in Hertsmere.”

In a statement, Hertsmere Conservative Association continued to deny its members had conducted an “orchestrated campaign”, adding: “Anyone involved in online abuse of any kind should be called out and charged by the police. It is a pernicious and unpleasant crime, and we would never condone it.”

With regards to Dr Ozarow’s comments to Express.co.uk, it said: “Cllr Ozarow is a seasoned political activist having stood for elections numerous times and demonstrated support for Labour’s previous regime under Jeremy Corbyn. It should also be noted that Cllr Ozarow made complaints to various bodies, including the police, all of whom threw out his complaints as having no case to answer.”

The local Tory group noted that four of the five accused were also Jewish, and claimed they “would never have knowingly behaved in such a way that would lead to such abuse”.

Mr Dowden responded that he was “deeply disappointed” by the outcome of the appeal, and that the party members concerned “continue to have my full support and confidence”.

He claimed: “I believe that this has been a flawed process and have made my views clear to the Conservative Party. The complaints process is clearly not fit for purpose and has been exploited for political advantage by a Corbyn-supporting Labour candidate [sic].

“The Conservative Party should urgently review it in the interest of natural justice.”

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