WALTER CRONXITE, our political editor, on how Croydon Central’s Tory candidate is accepting support from some questionable sources
Tory Gavin Barwell, as he defends his Croydon Central seat with its slender 165-vote majority, does not appear to be too fussy about where he receives endorsements, after he enthusiastically re-tweeted yesterday the support for his campaign from a convicted fraudster.
What ought to be particularly embarrassing, even for the usually shameless Barwell, is that as the Conservative Party’s spokesman on housing, his new-found backing comes from Daniel Morriss, who in 2012 was sentenced to four months for fraud. Morriss, then working as an estate agent, was caught renting out a house that he was supposed to be selling for its owners. He pleaded guilty to five charges of theft and fraud.
In fact, Barwell’s new supporter has been jailed three times, most recently in 2013 when he was given a 10-year sentence after robbing a Sutton casino at knife point and stealing £8,000 from his employer.
Morriss had that sentence reduced to seven years and was released last year after serving three.
Now, Morriss says he is “on a journey that has changed my life”.
“I was that person once. I’m not that person now,” Morriss told Inside Croydon.
Morriss describes himself as a philanthropist. Morriss also claims he is two years away from getting a law degree. He says that he has set up a company, the Freshwood Group, which is involved in campaigning for justice reform and helping the homeless. Indeed, despite his 2012 conviction for fraud, Morriss is listed by Companies House as a director of the company, which was formed in May 2016.
He also says that he works full-time, and that he uses this income to fund the establishment of his new business, including paying the wages of staff he employs at the Freshwood Group.
It sounds plausible, though the Freshwood Group does not have a working website at present (“I’ve been waiting weeks for the website designer,” he says), and he is a little vague about how his company is funded, or what it does.
So about as plausible as your average estate agent. Or Tory MP.
Yesterday, using the Freshwood Group’s Twitter account, Morriss broadcast his political allegiances ahead of the General Election on June 8 by posting two messages.
“Croydon,” Morriss wrote, “Let’s all back our local champion.” He then utilised the Tory election mantra of #StrongAndStable.
Soon after, Morriss elaborated: “I’ll be voting for @BackBarwell in the up and coming election. Gavin and his team worked on my case making significant impact.”
Both these tweets were swiftly repeated from Barwell’s own campaign Twitter account, @BackBarwell.
Morriss explained to Inside Croydon that in February this year, he was recalled to prison for breaking the terms of his licence, having been late for a probation appointment. “It’s a lifetime licence, so I am always going to be subject to that sort of approach,” he said.
It was then that he wrote to a range of people seeking his re-release, to enable his return to work. Among those to whom he wrote to was his MP, Barwell, who Morriss says took up his case, helping to get his release.
Of course, had Morriss still been inside on June 8, he would not have been allowed to vote. So perhaps this is another way Barwell is ensuring the maximum “turn out” for him at the polls next month.
It is not known whether Barwell is aware of Morriss’s previous fraud conviction, nor whether the Tory housing minister cares too much any way.
Barwell’s help for Morriss following his armed robbery using a large knife does, though, throw a different light on one of the Tory MP’s stated campaign action points, in which he claims to want to reduce levels of knife crime.
Barwell has form for this sort of thing.
Before the 2015 General Election, Barwell published campaign literature that included another gushing endorsement, this from Neelofar Khan, a businesswoman who was successfully prosecuted for failing to pay her staff the minimum wage. It is clear that this is not an offence that bothers Barwell too much, especially when the career politician wants to be re-elected.
And, we now learn, Tory housing minister Barwell’s not too bothered about housing fraud and armed robbery, either.
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