South Tyneside Tory chiefs quit over race row

Coun Jeff Milburn
Coun Jeff Milburn

South Tyneside’s Conservative party has been thrown into disarray by a race row that has led to two branch chairmen resigning.

Both have accused Coun Jeff Milburn - the only Tory councillor in the borough - of racism and quit in protest at what they say is a lack of disciplinary action against him.

Ajay Jagota

Ajay Jagota

South Shields Conservative Association chairman Ajay Jagota, who is of Indian descent and the target of an alleged remark, and chairman of the Jarrow branch, Gerard Leake, claim party chiefs have failed to adequately address their claims.

Coun Milburn refutes the allegation and says he was asked by the Conservative regional office in November if there was truth to the claim, and his denial was accepted.

Mr Leake was chair of Jarrow Conservative Association when he says Coun Milburn made an allegedly offensive comment to him about Mr Jagota on September 22.

This was overheard by Mr Jagota.

Mr Jagota's resignation letter

Mr Jagota's resignation letter

Both men have now resigned claiming the party failed to fully investigate the matter.

Lettings agency owner, Mr Jagota, 49, said in his letter of resignation that his reason for standing down were Coun Milburn’s alleged comments and the party’s lack of action.

In the letter, seen by The Gazette, he says: “My decision is based solely on the incident on 22nd September 2018 at the Jarrow presidents evening.

“At this event, I was subject to racist comments from Councillor Jeff Milburn, directed at myself and witnessed by Gerard Leake, then the chairman of Jarrow Association.

“I considered resigning at the time but as I have fought racism in the past, I felt it my duty to face this head on.”

He adds: “As time went on, I have kept a log of all of the conversations, meetings and communications I have had.

“On each occasion, it is I who have had to follow up individuals leaving me with a feeling as though they would wish this situation to go away.

“At no stage have I had one response or update from anyone which I find disdainful and wholly unacceptable from the Conservative party.”

Mr Jagota told the Gazette: “This is a serious allegation and when someone raises a serious issue, I would expect that person to be kept informed about the process, but none of that has happened and that’s what I find untenable.”

But he also slammed the Conservative party for not investigating, claiming there had been a failure of process in failing to carry out a formal probe.

In his resignation letter, Mr Leake tells the regional Conservative campaigns office: “During recent conversations with Councillor Milburn, I was shocked by his blatant and unashamed racist attitude towards the Chairman of the South Shields Conservative Association and other members of the party.

“It seems to me that the management of the Party are not interested in sorting this problem out. I do not find this acceptable.”

Coun Milburn, elected to the Cleadon and East Boldon ward last May, having lost the seat in 2016, refuted the allegation.

He said he had been asked by the Conservative regional office in November if there was truth to the claim, and his denial had been accepted.

Of Mr Jagota, he said: “I made no comment about that man at all. I have been exonerated by senior Conservative management. The allegation was totally dismissed in November, senior people looked into it.

“This allegation is absolute rubbish.

“I don’t know what it is I’m meant to have said.

“I’ve spoken to Ajay on several occasions, been out for a meal with his family and have taken him to a function and have spoken to Gerard plenty of times.

“I’ve been in this business a long time and nothing like this has been said against me before.”

The Conservative party said it did not comment on internal matters.