Liberal Democrat claims that disgraced Birmingham city councillor Ayoub Khan was cleared of wrongdoing by an internal party inquiry have collapsed into embarrassing confusion.
Deputy Birmingham City Council leader Paul Tilsley insisted on Wednesday morning that the probe, launched a year ago into allegations that Coun Khan smeared a Labour opponent in an election court, cleared him of any wrongdoing.
He said the inquiry, by full time Lib Dem official David Allworthy, found there was “no issue as far as Coun Khan was concerned”.
But hours later a press official at the Liberal Democrats’ Cowley Street HQ in London said the inquiry had not yet finished.
Proceedings were suspended while Coun Khan appealed against the Election Commissioner’s finding that his behaviour had been “scurrilous”.
The appeal was thrown out by two high court judges last week and the internal party investigation into Coun Khan will resume, she added.
Coun Tilsley (Lib Dem Sheldon) said he believed suspension of the inquiry was a “technicality” because the findings could not be released while the appeal was taking place.
He had “no problem” with Coun Khan continuing to be a Birmingham cabinet member and prospective candidate for Ladywood at the next General Election.
The election court hearing in 2008 found that Coun Khan, while giving evidence, made up a “sordid” story to falsely accuse Aston Labour councillor Muhammed Afzal of intimidating witnesses – an offence which, if proven, could have resulted in Coun Afzal being sent to prison.
Elections Commissioner Timothy Straker QC, who presided over the hearing into alleged misconduct in Aston, found that Coun Khan made up an “unpleasant and unsubstantiated” claim that Coun Afzal’s supporters set fire to a Range Rover owned by a Liberal Democrat supporter.
Birmingham Liberal Democrats have continued to rally around Coun Khan, with city MP John Hemming repeating allegations about the Range Rover.
Mr Hemming said: “Neither Ayoub nor myself have any evidence as to who torched the car, but we have a lot of experience of Birmingham politics.
“To that extent we have a reasonable suspicion, but no more than that.”
Labour in Birmingham are leading calls for Coun Khan to be sacked by the Lib Dems.
Sir Albert Bore, leader of the city council Labour group, and Steve McCabe, the MP for Hall Green, have written to Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg urging him to sack Coun Khan as a cabinet member and parliamentary candidate.
Mr McCabe said: “Nick Clegg claims to be very concerned over standards in public life, if that’s true he needs to address this unpleasant smell in his own backyard.”
A spokeswoman for Mr Clegg said the Liberal Democrat leader had not yet seen the letters from Sir Albert and Mr McCabe and could not comment.