Former Tory candidate vows to clear name

A FORMER Conservative Party rising star claims a smear campaign involving malicious child sex allegations has virtually ruined his family's life and driven them to the brink of losing their home for a second time, writes Mark Entwistle.

Twenty years ago, Peter Clarke – currently a popular regular columnist with TheSouthern – was the Tory candidate adopted to fight the East Lothian seat.

Mr Clarke, who now lives at historic Kirkhope Tower near Selkirk, is a former private secretary to the late Enoch Powell and an adviser to the late Lord Joseph (Margaret Thatcher's education minister, Sir Keith Joseph).

However, in 1986, Mr Clarke opted to stand down as a candidate because of what he claims were attempts to get his then employer, Lord Hanson – a major donor to the Conservative Party – to sack him.

This, Mr Clarke believes, was because of 'poison pen letters', sent to the Conservative Party, containing allegations that he advocated sex with children as acceptable.

The allegations had surfaced shortly after Mr Clarke agreed to donate 200 to the Federation of Conservative Students to help pay for the printing of a pamphlet that included proposals concerning changes to Scots law on incest.

Venice-born and Oxford-educated Mr Clarke, who saw his political career destroyed as a result, has remained adamant ever since that he was unaware of what the pamphlet contained and never saw it before it was published. But his political enemies, both inside and outside of the Conservative Party, subsequently had a field day.

Mr Clarke says the 'poison pen' letters twisted his innocent link with the pamphlet into something much more nefarious, accusing him of being a dangerous paedophile.

He had planned to apply to stand as a candidate in more seats, but a libel case in 1992 against The Independent newspaper for repeating the allegations – which Mr Clarke won – saw Conservative Central Office reported at the time as saying it did not want candidates facing litigation standing for Parliament.

What happened next remains a mystery as Conservative Party chiefs still refuse to publicly comment on their investigation into the matter.

When contacted by TheSouthern, Conservative Party spokesman Ramsay Jones told us the party never commented on internal issues. The only thing Mr Jones did say in response to our questioning was that Mr Clarke is not 'blackballed' from putting his name forward as a potential Conservative candidate.

However, despite repeated attempts, Mr Clarke has never managed to get re-instated as a candidate and believes the party is blocking his efforts.

Without further information from the Conservatives, how much of an investigation was carried out into the allegations remains unclear.

Other libel actions had to be dropped by Mr Clarke due to lack of funds and, despite the win over The Independent, Mr Clarke and his late wife Gillian were left with debts of 600,000, forcing them to sell their then home at Kirkton Manor in Peeblesshire. Even a plea by Lord Joseph to the then Conservative Party chairman at Westminster, Sir Norman Fowler, proved fruitless, despite Lord Joseph stating that Mr Clarke's "life, finances and career are in danger of being destroyed simply because of a series of misunderstandings".

Mrs Clarke died last year, but her last words to her husband were to never give up the battle to clear his name and to force the Conservative Party to publicly repent its conduct in the affair.

Mr Clarke has two sons – Rory and Alexander – and the the latter has even sent letters to former Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie MSP and to Scottish Conservative Party chairman Peter Duncan, pleading for their help in clearing his father's name.

Mr Clarke, who still remains a Conservative Party member, maintains the scandal of the unfounded allegations continues to haunt him to this day, preventing him from finding regular employment.

A former economics correspondent for the BBC and contributor to Private Eye magazine, he only managed to halt his most recent eviction threat for non-payment of mortage payments after friends rallied round.

But the threat will surface again at the end of this month.

"In my view, but I am guessing, I would say Peter Duncan and Ramsay Jones just think I am a crank and cannot grasp the full horror of it all," Mr Clarke told TheSouthern.

"But what could be worse than being thought to have this child sex/incest link? The party's memory is that I resigned East Lothian in disgrace at my alleged paedophile streak being revealed – they are completely wrong but will not grasp the truth.

"Malicious and unfounded allegations that I am a paedophile have followed me around ever since. The party in London has told me I may not put my name forward but they will conduct an enquiry into my complaints of injustices. Meanwhile, the party in Edinburgh says there were no injustices but I may put my name forward.

"On the last two occasions I submitted an application, my papers were returned refusing to interview me, once with the cheque cashed, once with the cheque returned.

"They can't say I have not been 'blackballed' ... are they nit-picking over the words? I have twice been rejected at interview panels.

"They were generous enough to concede it was not through lack of competence but for disclosures that must remain confidential.

"How can I challenge allegations I cannot be informed of? The simple case is they got it into their heads I was a paedophile and sought the legalisation of sex with children.

"My wife and I came within a whisker of losing our children. We did lose our home, our furniture, our savings before we defeated the allegation in the courts.

"My last promise to my wife was to expose the cruelty and injustice of the Scottish Conservative Party – and I will."