Inquest into death of young Tory Elliott Johnson heard he had made three previous attempts of ‘self-harm’
- Credit: Archant
A young Conservative activist who was found dead on railway tracks was told by a man dubbed ‘The Tatler Tory ‘ that he would be ‘crushed like an ant’ for complaining about his bullying, an inquest heard today/Tuesday.
Elliott Johnson, 21, had also lost £23,000 a year as political editor of the pressure group Conservative Way Forward and had been put on a zero hours £10 an hour contract when he died.
An inquest at Ampthill, Bedfordshire heard that Elliott was one of a number of people who had complained about bullying by Mark Clarke, the 38 year old Tatler Tory who had run the Conservative election roadtrip last year. He has since been banned for life.
The Nottingham University history graduate complained that on 12 August last year at the Marquis of Granby pub in London Clarke, a former parliamentary candidate, pinned him in a chair, hurled abuse at him and threatened to squash him like an ant because he had used a picture on the CWF website without Clarke’s permission.
He said: “He is very tall and I am very short. He got even more irate and said he would me for breach of copyright. Mark knew I had a caution for tweeting the result of Euro elections while at Nottingham Univeristy. Mark said he would use the information to destroy my career and said it would be across front pages unless I apologised. Mark had gone ballistic.
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“Mark said he had sued lots of people and smashed them like ants when they are small and young and said ‘this is what I am going to do to you.’ He grabbed my chin to make sure I was looking at him.”
On 2 September Elliott secretly recorded a meeting he had with Clarke and political journalist Andre Walker in which they urged him to drop the allegation.
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Thirteen days later, on September 15, he died. In an extract from a suicide note read to the a pre-inquest hearing by the family’s lawyer Heather Williams QC, Elliott wrote: “I have been bullied by Mark Clarke and betrayed by Andre Walker.”
DCI Sam Blackburn told the coroner that Elliott had arrived alone at Sandy station in Bedfordshire at 16.11. At 18.42 a train driver reported a body on the line a kilometre north of the station. A blue towel had been laid out and Elliott’s leather bag and silver hip flask were recovered.
He had left three notes at his family home in Wisbech, along with a photograph of him and his parents on graduation day.
To his parents Ray and Alison, he wrote: “I find myself on the scrap heap. I have been bullied by Mark Clarke and betrayed by Andre Walker. Now all my political bridges are burnt. If only I had not been caught up in the fake idea of a right wing movement, but that is that. “
To his friends and allies he wrote “I failed you” in large letters.
The third note to “bullies and betrayers” read: “I could write a hate message but actions speak louder than words. I think this should be on your mind Elliott.”
DCI Blackburn said Elliott had made three attempts at self harm. In March 2011 he threw himself into the Nene in Wisbech, but came across a ladder and climbed out. In May 2011 he ate yew tree berries after a friend called Michael died in a road accident and, on October 14 that year, he had tried to hang himself on scaffolding outside a club, but the tie he used had broken.
The officer said he accessed Elliott’s computer and searches had been made about suicide from August 12 onwards, including the night before his death.
Paul Abbott, Conservative Way Forward chief executive, said that last year Mark Clarke was pursuing a vendetta against him. “His target was me.”
Mr Abbott said: “There were many other people complaining about him. There were half a dozen of us making complaints.”
Under questioning by the family’s lawyer Heather Williams QC, Mr Abbott denied that the decision to terminate Elliott’s £23,000 a year job was “illogical, inconsistent and bewildering.”
He said “It was a genuine redundancy - it was about money. We were at risk of trading insolvently.
“I spoke to him for 90 minutes and explained the redundancy had nothing to do with the altercation with Clarke.”
The inquest heard he had arranged interviews with newspapers and bloggers for Elliott and it was agreed he would continue to work for CWF on a ‘zero hours’ basis of £10 an hour from August to October last year.