I find myself in the rather unusual position of having to offer an apology to the European parliament, following the Guardian story “MEP resigns amid investigation into alleged misuse of funds” on June 13th.
Just to re-cap, the parliament approached me some months ago with questions about the work of two of my UK staffers, and asked for evidence that they had in fact done the work for which they were payed. The parliament is of course perfectly entitled to ask such questions, though I must admit that I felt somewhat offended that they felt the need to do so.
I submitted substantial dossiers of evidence of work done in both cases. A few weeks ago I heard that they had cleared the case of my Press Officer Nick Tite, but I continued to await the outcome on the other case, Paul Oakden. On reading the Guardian story, and indeed the story in the Metro, I naturally assumed that the parliament had decided against the case of Paul Oakden, that there would be a letter to me to that effect in the system, and that a copy had been leaked in advance to the Guardian and formed the basis of their story.
I was away from home from June 13th to 22nd, and expected to find the parliament letter on my return. But it was not there. Further enquiries showed that the parliament had indeed reviewed the dossier I had provided, that the Secretary-General Klaus Welle had referred it to the parliament Legal Services, and that they had reported back to the Sec-Gen on June 19th – nearly a week after the Guardian report.
I should have been surprised if the parliament had reached a negative conclusion, because the evidence I had submitted was substantial and incontrovertible. It included, for example, hard copy evidence of 800+ phone and e-mail contacts between me and Paul Oakden in 2016. Given that Paul was contracted to work on a half-time basis for me, that amounts to an average of at least seven contacts per working day. This would be an inconceivable level had we not been working together on an intense and continuous basis.
I should have been surprised if a negative letter had been leaked, but not too surprised. On the one hand, the parliament is engaged in hostile and politically-motivated “investigations” into a number of Eurosceptic MEPs. It is judge, jury and executioner in its own cause, and it has little sympathy for those who oppose the EU project. It also has form in leaking letters to the press before the individuals concerned know what is going on. I suppose it is just conceivable that a draft letter had been prepared in the parliament, and leaked to the Guardian, before the Sec-Gen’s final decision – but it seems unlikely.
So I am forced to the conclusion that the Guardian, in a fit of malice and opportunism, took the story of my retirement and chose to conflate it with the months-old story that that the parliament had launched an investigation into my staff, with the objective of implying that I was leaving the parliament as a result of the investigation. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I have explained elsewhere, I had been pondering retirement for years, I had decided last year to retire this year, and indeed I signed the relevant papers on May 31st this year, before the UK General Election and a fortnight before the Guardian story.
So my suggestion that the parliament had leaked a new letter to the Guardian in June appears to be mistaken, and I apologise for the misunderstanding.
While the Guardian was careful to put the quote marks in the right place, and talk about “alleged” misuse of funds, the Metro was less careful. Its front-page headline read UKIP MEP quits over “misuse of £100,000 of EU money”. It has placed the quote marks so that the misuse of money is merely alleged, but the causal connection between the retirement and the financial allegations is asserted as fact. Of course it is no such thing. The claim is false and defamatory. I suspect the sub-editor who wrote the headline may come to regret it.
Meantime the flood of vitriol on social media continues. Many media trolls are clearly no more than abusive idiots. But I noticed that my Nottingham sparring partner Professor Michael Merrifield Tweeted a reference to my “retiring in disgrace”. He should know better. His comment is clearly actionable. (Don’t worry, Michael – I’ll be happy to settle for an apology and a £5000 donation to the GWPF).
Of course I still await the final outcome, which should clear the case of Paul Oakden as it has cleared the case of Nick Tite. If it does not, I shall certainly appeal, and if the appeal fails I will consider other avenues to clear my name. In the course of a long career I have been criticised rightly or wrongly for many things, but I have always been scrupulously honest with money, and I am angry that between them the parliament and their friends in the media have chosen to air these false allegations just as I move on to a well-earned retirement.
Written by Roger Helmer