(Updated Weds 5pm – with new statement from Mervyn)
Mervyn Barrett, the remarkably well-funded independent candidate to be police and crime commissioner in Lincolnshire, reacted with the standard huffing and puffing to our expose on Sunday about his links with a neo-con US thinktank. Not that he’s actually denied it, or anything else specific that we wrote, of course. And tonight, inevitably, two days after his campaign team resigned, Mervyn has followed them out of the door.
In Sunday’s paper, I described how Mr Barrett’s campaign manager, Matthew de Unger Brown, was involved with what he described as a “neo-conservative” US thinktank, the Fund for the New American Century, to which Mr Barrett’s campaign website is also registered. “We support Republican candidates. It is a centre-right organisation,” Mr de Unger Brown told me on Friday. “I don’t think that neocon would be an unfair description.” Mr de Unger Brown also told a rival PCC candidate, David Bowles, with whom he was trying to negotiate an electoral pact, that the campaign was receiving funding from groups “with an interest in police sector privatisation.” Matthew refused to deny saying this to Mr Bowles when I spoke to him on Friday.
I originally hoped to write more on Sunday about the very curious phenomenon that is Matthew de Unger Brown. Most of it, unfortunately, had to go for legal reasons. There are, for instance, various pages on the internet claiming that his real name is Matthew Brown, that he has been convicted of fraud, expelled from the Tory Party, and has pretended to be various incarnations of British and European aristocracy. Matthew neither confirmed nor denied these claims when I put them to him on Friday. Cuttings searches do show various “Matthew Browns” convicted of fraud – but it’s a common name, and it could quite easily have been someone else. It would have been hard, therefore, to label him explicitly as a fraudster in our news story. Today, however, an anonymous blogger who claims to know him has put up a post claiming that that is indeed what he is.
Something else I put to Matthew on Friday was that neither the Fund for the New American Century, nor its political action committee arm, MatthewPAC, are registered with the US Federal Election Commission, nor do they have much presence online. He insisted to me that they were registered. They could be registered at state level, which the FEC wouldn’t know about.
It is also perfectly possible that MatthewPAC, and the Fund, are indeed not much more than a website and a domain name registration. However, against this is the undeniable fact of Mr Barrett’s rather heavy spending on newspaper ads, offices, staff, hundreds of thousands of leaflets, a good website and a chauffer-driven Merc. That money must have come from somewhere. Mr Barrett’s resignation is also, of course, a telling sign.
I have a feeling this might be a story that keeps on giving.
UPDATE Wednesday 5pm: Mervyn Barrett has just issued a statement claiming that his entire campaign was a confidence trick played on him by Matthew de Unger Brown. “Yesterday I finally realised the whole thing had been a sham,” he says. “Although I have been actively campaigning on the streets of Lincolnshire, with a website and promotional video in place, many other aspects of the plan that Matthew claimed to have delivered – such as tracking polls and leaflets for a door-to-door delivery – now appear to have been purely figments of his imagination. To my knowledge, there has been no funding for my campaign, other than from my own bank account, to which Matthew had access. It will take some days for me to establish how much has been spent, on what, and whether there are outstanding debts to be settled. For example, I understand that the video produced cost in excess of £30,000 and I do not know whether that bill has been settled.”
Call me a cynic, but something about this still doesn’t wholly ring true. Mervyn has been campaigning for almost three months – can he really have suspected nothing until the Telegraph came to call? If he was paying for everything himself, why did he refuse to disclose the sources of his funding when asked about it at the last hustings he attended, in Boston last Thursday? And if all the money was coming out of his own pocket, wouldn’t he have been more curious about the amounts he was spending? If the leaflets never existed, why did Mervyn allow his campaign to keep talking about them? Didn’t he ever ask to see any? Why did he set up a new “advisory” company, Trinity Advisory, at the same time as he launched his campaign?
More to come, I think, on this story.