Today Ian Oakley, the former Conservative PPC for Watford, (and the former Tory manager for Ali Miraj’s 2005 Watford General Election Campaign) has pleaded guilty to five charges of criminal damage and two of harassment against the Liberal Democrats and their supporters in Watford. He has also asked for a further 68 crime incidents to be taken into consideration. This leaves around 74 incidents unaccounted for, from the 150 plus that have been perpetrated over the last three and half years.
He will be sentenced on Tuesday 16 September. I think I can speak for all of us in Watford when I say that we are relieved that Ian Oakley has admitted that he is behind this, and that the nightmare of the last three years may finally be coming to an end. This has been a traumatic period for all those who have suffered from his vile campaign to defame, intimidate and terrorise people simply for expressing support for a political party.
This campaign of intimidation included slashing of car tyres, graffiti (sexual and racist) sprayed on cars, homes, fences and posterboards, distribution of false and defamatory leaflets purporting to come from the Liberal Democrats and a range of other criminal acts aimed at intimidating Liberal Democrat supporters, councillors and candidates.
These incidents were of such a persistent and systematic nature that it became clear they were part of a sustained campaign, and that it appeared to be intended to influence and subvert the democratic process. Virtually all the targets lived in wards where we had made gains from the Conservatives.
It was also noticeable that damage to posters and vandalism was particularly targeted at houses on busy main roads, where the owners displayed Lib Dem posters at election time. The perpetrator would either leave behind a Lib Dem leaflet or poster board or write graffiti such as ‘F*ck the Lib Dems’ to intimidate people into not displaying posters in the future. Likewise, the false allegations appear to have been targeted at new and inexperienced candidates, with the apparent hope of discouraging them from pursuing their candidatures.
When a spate of tyre slashing started late in 2006, I collated a spreadsheet of all the incidents that we had been collecting and reporting to the police. They set up Operation Tuition, in the Major Crimes Unit, and have spent the last two years in painstaking investigation of all these and the subsequent incidents. A year ago the police announced that they believed that there was a political connection, and they offered a reward for the capture of the perpetrator(s).
I and my colleagues have been absolutely determined that this sustained campaign against us should not get in the way of our own legitimate political campaigning in Watford. Watford is the seventh Liberal Democrat target seat nationally, and I am proud to be able to lead a team that is working hard for local people. We haven’t let it get us down, and now, hopefully, we can get back to real and ordinary politics.
Sal Brinton is the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Watford and fought the seat in 2005.