“Councillors from other parties… over the last year, 13 of them have gone to prison. Can you imagine, if any of my councillors went to prison, the scale of media row we’d see around that?”
Nigel Farage, 2 April 2015
Nigel Farage has accused the BBC of being biased against his party after he was asked about recent scandals involving Ukip general election candidates on Radio 4’s Today programme.
The Ukip leader complained that the corporation had not put other party leaders on the spot about bad behaviour by their parliamentary candidates or local councillors.
In a tweet after the interview he said the line of questioning was evidence of “clear and evident bias” by the BBC. Does that stand up to scrutiny?
We can’t stand up Mr Farage’s number of 13 councillors jailed over the last year, although it’s not implausible. Ukip say they have been keeping score but can’t provide us with a list of names at the moment.
Depressingly, press reports certainly show that councillors from across the political spectrum are imprisoned fairly regularly, although restricting an internet search to the “last year” alone doesn’t throw up 13 cases.
If we go back further than a year we find a motley band of local politicians of all stripes jailed for offences stretching from benefit fraud to child sex abuse.
Mr Farage’s point is slightly weakened by the fact that at least one Ukip councillor is among those who have been jailed in the last year – for grooming children as young as 12 online and possession of indecent images of children.
Peter Entwistle, the 52-year-old former chairman of the party’s Bury branch, was given four years and eight months in November last year.
It’s debatable this case sparked a massive “media row”. It was reported in some regional news outlets and the Independent. As far as we know, BBC News did not actually run the story.
If we go back further than one year, we find examples of other Ukip councillors who were convicted of offences including drink driving, benefit fraud and fire safety offences, but were not jailed.
Mr Farage could say – correctly – that Entwistle was not a serving Ukip councillor when he was sentenced, but this appears to be technically true of many convicted councillors, because they tend to get suspended by their party or (like Entwistle) resign before their case comes to court.
A Ukip spokesman told us Mr Farage’s point was that his party tends to act more quickly when members are accused of wrongdoing, whereas other parties drag their feet.
The BBC interviewer, Mishal Husain, repeatedly stressed that her question was about parliamentary candidates not local councillors and said she wanted to move the discussion away from local councillors to “parliamentary candidates and MEPs – prominent people in the party”.
Some Ukip prospective parliamentary candidates have become embroiled in scandal recently – as have candidates from other parties.
Farmer David Evans was de-selected as Ukip’s candidate for Tory marginal seat Camborne and Redruth after it emerged he was being investigated for animal cruelty. He was later jailed for four months for the offence.
The Ukip candidate for Folkestone and Hythe Janice Atkinson, who is a sitting MEP, was expelled from the party last month for bringing it “into disrepute” after accusations that her chief of staff was inflating expenses claims. Ms Atkinson’s website says she intends to appeal against the expulsion.
And Jeremy Zeid, the party’s nominee for Hendon, resigned after writing on Facebook that Israel should “kidnap” US president Barack Obama for declassifying documents on the country’s nuclear programme.
Last year Labour suspended Deborah Hopkins, who was due to stand in St Austell and Newquay, after she posted obscene comments on Twitter. And Vicki Kirby, who was due to stand in Woking, stepped down after calling Israel “evil” in tweets.
The Conservative candidate for Dudley North, Afzal Amin, was suspended by the Conservatives last month after being filmed apparently attempting to fake an English Defence League demonstration. He later resigned and stated he planned a ‘robust defence’ of the allegations.
Last week the Lib Dems suspended their candidate for Ashfield, Jason Zadrozny, after he was arrested and accused of child sex offences. Mr Zadrozny “vehemently refutes the allegations”.
Mr Farage said it was “interesting” that he was being asked about Ukip candidates when Nick Clegg had not been grilled over this case.
It appears to be true that the Lib Dem leader has not been asked about the suspension, although in fairness, it would be difficult for him to comment on the allegations for legal reasons.
As far as we can say, David Cameron was not directly questioned about the case of Afzal Amin, although this could be because reporters did not have access to the prime minister. He did comment on the issue to promise “swift, decisive action.”
Other Conservative front benchers were asked about the Amin case by news organisations including the BBC, who featured the story prominently over several days.
MEPs and others
Ukip is unique among the parties in having had two of its MEPs jailed.
Ashley Mote served nine months after being convicted of benefit fraud in 2007 and Tom Wise got two years after pleading guilty to expenses fraud in 2009.
Five Labour MPs and two Tory peers were jailed in the wake of the 2009 expenses scandal, and Lib Dem minister Chris Huhne was sent to prison for perverting the course of justice.
We can’t confirm Mr Farage’s claim that 13 non-Ukip councillors have gone to prison over the last year.
We have found numerous cases of local councillors being convicted of serious offences – but former Ukip regional chairman Peter Entwistle is among them.
Far from causing the “media row” Mr Farage suggested it might spark, Entwistle’s conviction received relatively little national press coverage.
It’s fair to say that Ukip has seen fewer of its politicans jailed than the bigger parties – but then there are fewer of them.
FactCheck is not in a position to say which party is statistically more likely to have had more councillors, MEPs or candidates run into trouble with the law over the years.
There is no central database, so we have to rely on media reports. And if there really is an anti-Ukip bias, it could be that cases involving members of the party are reported more than others.