Coroner rules young Tory activist Elliott Johnson’s death was suicide - now his family will consider their next move
PUBLISHED: 17:43 31 May 2016 | UPDATED: 11:21 03 June 2016
A young Conservative activist found dead on railway tracks believed he was bullied everyday by a man dubbed’ The Tatler Tory ‘who he told him he would be ‘crushed like an ant’.
The coroner at an inquest today (Tuesday) ruled that Elliott, whose family come from Wisbech, had committed suicide.
Bedfordshire Senior Coroner Tom Osborne recorded a verdict of suicide. He said: “His future was in front of him” but he was suffering from “depression and anxiety”.
“He believed at the time of his death he was being bullied and betrayed.”
After the hearing Ray Johnson said he and his wife Alison would take time to decide what to do next.
He said: “The evidence has shown he was under intense pressure from Clarke, Walker and Conservative Way Forward.”
The hearing at Ampthill in Bedfordshire heard Elliott, 21, had lost his £23,000 a year job as political editor of the pressure group Conservative Way Forward and was on a zero hours £10 an hour contract when lay down in front of a train at Sandy in Bedfordshire.
The court heard 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 road trip last year. He has since been banned from the party for life.
Elliott, who was awarded a 2.1 degree in history from Nottingham University last year, complained that on August 12 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
In a complaint to the Conservative party Elliott said: “He is very tall and I am very short. He got even more irate and said he would do me for breach of copyright. Mark knew I had a caution for tweeting the result of Euro elections while at Nottingham University. 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.
“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.”
The inquest heard that Elliott had never been formally cautioned.
On September 2 Elliott secretly recorded a meeting he had with Clarke and political journalist Andre Walker in which they urged him to drop the allegation, something he did.
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 Johnson 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 kilometer north of the station. A blue towel had been laid out and Elliott’s leather bag and silver hip flask were recovered.
The cause of death was severe traumatic injuries to the head. The level of alcohol in his blood was 103mg - the driving limit is 80.
He had left three notes at his family home along with a photograph of him and 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 policitical 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. “
Giving evidence, his father Ray Johnson said: “He had lost his job, his career prospects damaged by MC who had threatened to crush him like and ant and his friends had turned their back on him.
“He felt his was a failure - He wasn’t.”
Mr Johnson said his son was involved in Mark Clarke’s Election Road trip 2015: “He appeared to enjoy it.” When he got the offer from Conservative Way Forward in June last year he was ecstatic.
Mr Johnson said: “We were unaware of what was going on in London. The first hint was when he received his redundancy consultation letter. He was crying. He was in tears. He was upset.”
DCI Blackburn said Elliott had made three attempts at self-harm . In March 2011 he threw himself into 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 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 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 on August 20 last year was “illogical, inconsistent and bewildering”
He said: “It was a genuine redundancy it was about money. We were at risk of trading insolently.
“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.