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Tories’ biggest donor ‘says Diane Abbott makes you want to hate all black women’

The Tories’ biggest donor told colleagues that looking at Diane Abbott makes you “want to hate all black women”, a media report has revealed.

Frank Hester, who has donated £10m to the Conservatives in the past year, also said the long-serving former Labour MP “should be shot”, it is claimed.

Mr Hester, founder and chief executive of The Phoenix Partnership (TPP), made the comments at a 2019 meeting at the firm’s headquarters, according to a Guardian investigation.

Discussing a female executive from another company, he reportedly said: “She’s s***. She’s the s***test person. Honestly I try not to be sexist but when I meet somebody like [the executive], I just …

“It’s like trying not to be racist but you see Diane Abbott on the TV, and you’re just like I hate, 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.

“[The executive] and Diane Abbott need to be shot. She’s stupid … If we can get [the executive] being unprofessional we can get her sacked. It’s not as good as her dying. It would be much better if she died. She’s consuming resource. She’s eating food that other people could eat. You know?”

Frank Hester has boosted Rishi Sunak’s general election war chest (PA)
Frank Hester has boosted Rishi Sunak’s general election war chest (PA)

Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds said Mr Hester’s comments were “reprehensible” and called on the Tories and Rishi Sunak to hand back his donations in full.

Ms Dodds 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.”

Tory MP Sir Bob Neil said Mr Hester’s alleged comments were “stupid and offensive”.

He told Times Radio: “It may have been hyperbolic. That’s not the sort of language that you should use about anyone, frankly.

“You can disagree with people’s politics… but let’s fight our enemies on clean ground, on the honest disagreements of policy, and show them up for where they’re wrong. But not to, that sort of type of divisive language."

And the Liberal Democrats called for the Tories to return Mr Hester’s donations and rule out awarding him a peerage.

Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “These comments are inexcusable and disgusting. Ultimately the buck stops with Rishi Sunak.

“He must reassure the public that the Conservative Party does not tolerate these remarks. That means confirming that his party will return every penny of these donations and won’t take any more from this donor in future.”

But lawyers for TPP told The Guardian the company fosters a diverse and inclusive workplace with a significant number of staff from diverse backgrounds. They also said Mr Hester’s comments had been taken out of context and distorted and did not accurately represent him or the company.

And the company released a statement saying: “Frank Hester accepts that he was rude about Diane Abbott 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 1970’s.

“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.”

The comments emerged as part of a broader investigation which The Guardian said also uncovered Mr Hester allegedly calling all of his “foreign” staff to a meeting to defend himself against allegations of racism from former staff.

In that meeting, he is alleged to have said: “I make a lot of jokes about racism, about our different creeds and cultures. But I just want to assure you that it is just the most abhorrent thing.”

He reportedly added: “I want to clear the air and make sure we all know where we are, what we stand for, and we take the piss out of the fact that all our Chinese girls sit together in Asian corner, which they do.”

TPP’s lawyers said the fact he donated heavily to a party led by Britain’s first Hindu prime minister, who is of Indian heritage, was evidence he embraces diversity.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph in February, after becoming the largest ever Tory donor, Mr Hester said he supported the PM because of his interest in artificial intelligence.

He said: “The future is AI and we’ve got a prime minister who gets it.

“I’ve had some quite long conversations with Rishi about AI and it’s not just that he understands it, we were talking about different algorithms. He does fundamentally get it and I think we’re blessed in this country.”

He had given £5m to the party ahead of the interview, ahead of a further £5m donation last year.

In 2015, the businessman was given an OBE for his services to healthcare. Mr Hester has been invited on several government trade missions in the past, including visiting India with then-prime minister David Cameron in 2013.

He appeared at number 321 on the 2023 Sunday Times Rich List, with the newspaper estimating his wealth at £415m.

The rich list said Mr Hester spotted an opportunity to build IT software for the NHS “when his GP wife grumbled about her computers at work”. TTP has been contacted for comment.

Diane Abbott has consistently received a disproportionate amount of abuse compared with other MPs (PA)
Diane Abbott has consistently received a disproportionate amount of abuse compared with other MPs (PA)

Ms Abbott was a Labour MP until her suspension in April last year for writing a letter suggesting Jewish people are not subjected to the same racism as some other minorities.

The first black woman to become an MP, she has represented Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987.

She has consistently been subjected to a disproportionate amount of abuse compared with other MPs, and Amnesty International research during the 2017 election found she was the victim of almost half the abuse directed at women MPs on Twitter, which has since been renamed X.

TPP’s main clients are the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)

The government, NHS and local authorities have paid TPP more than £440m since 2016, according to analysis by contract specialists Tussell.

A TPP spokesperson told The Guardian: “As the safe and trusted custodians of 80 million medical records in the UK and around the world, we always hire the best people for the job, regardless of race, gender, sexuality or any other characteristic.

“We take care of our people and celebrate diversity in our workplace. We reward our staff well, encouraging them to work collaboratively, to take ownership of their responsibilities, and to demonstrate the commitment and professionalism that the NHS, patients and our customers around the world deserve.

“Having recently witnessed the tragic consequences that can be caused when software systems of major public services fail, we are proud to demand the highest standards of our staff to ensure we can continue to safely and reliably support our health service.”

A Conservative spokesperson 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.”