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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 February, 2005, 17:04 GMT
MP fights aide's sex bias claim
Candy Atherton: "Not prejudiced"
An MP has denied asking a former research assistant to "dig up dirt" on the sexuality of a political opponent.

Candy Atherton, Labour MP for Falmouth and Camborne in Cornwall, was giving evidence to an employment tribunal in south London.

Paul Phillips, 36, has claimed she asked him to find out whether gay Conservative opponent Ashley Crossley frequented gay bars in Soho.

Mr Phillips later resigned from his job and started discrimination proceedings.

I would personally not want any personal political gain because of other peoples' prejudices
Candy Atherton

Ms Atherton, 49, described Mr Phillips, who is claiming discrimination on grounds of a sexual orientation, as a man with mental problems, who was "emotional" and produced "erratic" work.

She denied being homophobic and insisted she would never have asked for or would have used information about Mr Crossley's sexual orientation for an election campaign.

Ms Atherton told the tribunal: "I would personally not want any personal political gain because of other peoples' prejudices. I want to win the election on the political issues, not personalities."

She said she was "really shocked" when she heard the allegations.

"I could hardly breathe for a while. I could hardly believe it. I was very upset and shocked."

Mr Crossley has declined to comment before the tribunal ends.

However Ms Atherton said: "I would like to say he has behaved with great honour throughout this case and I would like to put that on the record."

'Dirt digging'

Mr Philips told the tribunal last month that that Ms Atherton approached him one day with a "research project".

"(I was) being asked to dig the dirt on Mr Crossley," he said.

"Facts about Mr Crossley's sexual orientation and lifestyle could only be used to damage him. There could be no other reason for wanting this kind of information.

"I felt very much on the spot being asked to check on a fellow gay man's lifestyle, especially someone standing for Parliament in Cornwall, a fairly homophobic area."

The hearing continues.

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