Sal Brinton on events in Watford

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.

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  • Justin Hinchcliffe 5th Aug '08 - 2:32pm

    Sally, I feel really sorry for you and your colleagues. I hope you will accept that the vast majority of people – of all political colours – enter politics for the right reasons and run clean and honourable campaigns Your father (a Conservative MP!) was one such example. As I’ve said in an earlier post, it’s now for the courts to take appropriate action.

  • Mark Thomas 5th Aug '08 - 2:42pm

    Should the Lib Dems not try to be getting their message across rather than getting so worked up about a local party politics issue? What is so telling is how poorly the Lib Dems are doing despite Gordon Brown being unelectable! Please remember the Lib Dems have used questionable (all be it not criminal) tactics in the past.

  • Lorna Spenceley 5th Aug '08 - 4:07pm

    All good wishes to you and the Watford team, and hats off to you all for not buckling under the incredible pressure you’ve been under during this ghastly experience. You wuz robbed in 2005 – Sal for MP this time.

  • Mark Thomas 5th Aug '08 - 4:15pm

    Lets hope the Watford Tories use this as a chance to get a better PPC that can win this seat from Labour. Looking at opinion pools I feel the Lib Dems don’t have a strong chance.

  • Mark Thomas – I have to say where I live all the parties fight clean – all the parties have been shown to used questionable tactics at some time.

    But nothing comes close to what has happened in Watford

  • Richard Nabavi 5th Aug '08 - 5:18pm


    As a Conservative, I am sure I speak for everyone in our party when I say how appalled I am by this horrendous campaign of harassment which you and your colleagues have suffered. It must have been incredibly stressful and unpleasant. Congratulations on your mature response to it.

    I hope the Conservative Party handle this with the seriousness which it deserves.

  • Richard Church 5th Aug '08 - 5:23pm

    It is amazing that a high profile Tory PPC may have acted alone in carrying out these despicable actions over a long time period without a single member of the Conservative party in Watford being aware of it and putting a stop to it.

    I hope the Tories respond to Ed Davey’s call for an internal inquiry.

  • Really good, sensible post- now get back to work winning ;-)!

    Also- good form from Richard Church and Stu for their comments- it heartens me to see that there are people around who are willing to accept when those that they support fall below common human decency.

    On a less nice note- just having a look at the Con Home page- unless it is proven to be the case we cannot allow the Watford Tories to get away with saying ‘ohh he was clearly mentally ill’. There is a difference between breaking the law out of hate, greed and power lust and having a mental illness.

  • Richard Church 5th Aug '08 - 8:16pm

    Are you suggesting I am a Tory? I shall need to consult my lawyer 🙂

    The contributions of some Tories here are welcome though. We can only believe the sincerity of the entire Conservative organisation when they carry out a thorough and open inquiry into the conduct of the Watford local party,

    PS- To scorch these foul rumours I’m a Lib Dem Councillor, twice parliamentary candidate, twice Lib Dem European candidate, former regional chair and helper in one Watford by-election since this guy started his abusive behaviour.

  • Richard

    Oh bugger…my deepest apologies…I read the comment above yours and your name… dumb…I think so!

  • Hee, hee. The BBC TV regional News reporter tonight had a sly dig at Mr Oakley’s calls for tougher penalties for criminals.

    Enjoy the strip searches, Ian.

  • Thanks, everyone, for your supportive comments, especially Justin H and Richard Nabavi, it is much appreciated.

    I really do hope that David Cameron and the Conservative Party have an inquiry into the whole matter, including the selection of Mr Oakley. Their complete silence at the moment is, to say the least, bizarre.

  • Sesenco, leave the homophobic flame bait out of it. What next, jokes about soap and showers ?

  • Jay Entee, I thought it was your party that enacted Section 28? It was certainly Michael Howard who said “prison works”, so maybe Oakley will emerge a reformed character.

  • Sesenco, The Lib Dems did not enact section 28. Stop dodging the issue.

    As I said before leave the homophobic flame bait out.

  • Except it isn’t homophobic, Jay Entee, not by any stretch of the imagination. I was pointing out that an advocate of prison as a punishment is about to get a taste of his own medicine. What is homophobic about that? Drat! I forgot. Something is homophobic if you say it is homophobic. Why didn’t I realise that?

  • The reference to strip searches and the suggestion that he “enjoy” them can be read that way.

    A guy making prank calls, to get a taste of his own medicine would get crank calls back not a strip search.

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