Major Tory donor Frank Hester apologises to Diane Abbott over 'reprehensible' and 'revolting' comments

A high-profile Tory donor has said he is "deeply sorry" following reports he said former Labour MP Diane Abbott made him "want to hate all black women".

Frank Hester, the chief executive of The Phoenix Partnership, which donated £10m to the Tories last year, also reportedly said Ms Abbott, who remains suspended from the parliamentary Labour Party, "should be shot".

In a post on X, a spokesperson for Mr Hester admitted he had made "rude" comments about Ms Abbott, which were first reported by The Guardian, but said they had "nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin".

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have called on the Tories to return the money Mr Hester has donated to the party following the comments, which were branded "reprehensible".

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The statement said: "Frank Hester accepts that he was rude about Diane Abbot in a private meeting several years ago but his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin.

"The Guardian is right when it quotes Frank saying he abhors racism, not least because he experienced it as the child of Irish immigrants in the 1970s."

It added: "He rang Diane Abbott twice today to try to apologise directly for the hurt he has caused her, and is deeply sorry for his remarks.

"He wishes to make it clear that he regards racism as a poison which has no place in public life."

Electoral Commission records show Mr Hester donated £10m to the Tories last year, including a £5m donation to Rishi Sunak that came from him personally and another £5m that came from his healthcare software firm in November.

According to The Guardian, Mr Hester made the remarks about Ms Abbott in 2019 during a meeting at his Leeds company headquarters.

He reportedly said: "It's like trying not to be racist but you see Diane Abbott on the TV, and you're just like… you just want to hate all black women because she's there.

"And I don't hate all black women at all, but I think she should be shot."

Anneliese Dodds, the chair of the Labour Party, said: "These comments are reprehensible.

"Frank Hester is the Conservative Party's biggest ever donor, as well as a personal donor to the prime minister, it is therefore vital that Rishi Sunak and the Tories return his donations, in full without delay.

"Rishi Sunak has claimed that 'words matter', and he must know that holding on to that money would suggest the Conservatives condone these disturbing comments. Sunak must return every penny."

The Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain urged Mr Sunak to rule out "any future peerage" for Mr Hester.

And speaking in the Commons, Wes Streeting, Labour's shadow health secretary, said Mr Hester had used "utterly revolting, racist and inciteful language" and called on the prime minister to apologise to Ms Abbott.

A Conservative spokeswoman said: "Mr Hester has made clear that while he was rude, his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor the colour of her skin.

"He has since apologised."

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Ms Abbott, who was first elected as the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in 1987, had the Labour whip withdrawn last April after she suggested in The Observer that Jewish, Irish and Traveller people are not subject to racism "all their lives".

Ms Abbott, who sits as an independent in the Commons, is awaiting the outcome of an independent complaints process set up by Labour to investigate her remarks.