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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 March, 2005, 12:12 GMT
MP "dig up dirt" claim thrown out
Candy Atherton: "Not prejudiced"
An employment tribunal has thrown out a case that a Cornwall MP's research assistant was asked to "dig up dirt" on the sexuality of a political opponent.

Falmouth MP Candy Atherton denied the allegations at the tribunal in Croydon.

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

The employment tribunal said Mr Phillips' claim failed because it had been made too late.

Claim failure

Mr Phillips, who is gay, claimed discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, was employed by Ms Atherton for three months until he resigned in March 2004. Prior to that he had been a volunteer in her team.

He said he was unhappy that Ms Atherton asked him to look at the private life of Mr Crossley, the Conservative candidate who is due to fight her at the next general election. Mr Crossley is also gay.

After a delay of several weeks for the judgement, the employment tribunal said that while the panel did not accept crucial parts of Mr Philips' story, his claim failed because it had been made too late and, as a result, the tribunal could not legally hear it.

Ms Atherton, 49, said in a statement: "From the moments these accusations were made, I felt very strongly that I should defend myself and my staff against these allegations.

"My sole aim in this litigation was to clear my name so that I could get back to doing the job I love, which is representing my constituents in Falmouth and Camborne."

Ashley Crossley said he was now "looking forward to the election" and was "glad the case was over".

Mr Phillips said he was disappointed by the tribunal's decision, but said he always knew it would be a difficult case to bring. He said if he had encouraged politicians generally to focus on issues, it was a case worth making.

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