Nazi-theme Tory 'not anti-Semitic'
8:52pm Tuesday 21st January 2014 in © Press Association 2014
A Tory MP who organised a Nazi-themed stag party in France was "stupid and offensive" but is not racist or anti-Semitic, an internal party inquiry found.
The verdict on Aidan Burley - who was sacked as a ministerial aide over the 2011 episode - has been released because French prosecutors have concluded their investigation.
Groom Mark Fournier - for whom Mr Burley acted as best man - was fined 1,500 euros (about £1,200) for wearing the SS uniform and insignia supplied by the MP, which is outlawed in France.
A court in Albertville also ordered 33-year-old Fournier to pay 1,000 euros (about £820) to an organisation representing the families of Holocaust victims.
Neither Mr Burley nor any of the other 10 guests who attended the party in the Alpine ski resort of Val Thoren in December 2011 were prosecuted.
But the Conservatives had halted publication of the findings of a disciplinary investigation by Tory peer Lord David Gold while legal proceedings were continuing.
It shows that Lord Gold accepted the assurances of the Cannock Chase MP - once seen as a high-flier - that there was "no political motivation whatsoever" in the choice of theme.
But he said his "unacceptable and offensive actions" threw into question his judgment and that it was right that he was sacked as parliamentary private secretary to Philip Hammond.
"Mr Burley is not a bad man, still less a racist or anti-Semite," the report found.
"However, his actions were stupid and offensive, and the conclusions and recommendations reflect that."
Mr Burley - who also visited Auschwitz on the recommendation of Lord Gold - will face no further disciplinary action, the party confirmed.
Lord Gold said that despite accepting that he left the dinner in protest at one guest raising a Nazi-themed toast, Mr Burley failed to make it "explicitly clear" that he objected.
"Given the standards expected of a Member of Parliament, he should have done so."
The investigation also accepted that Mr Burley was not in a pub later in the evening where Nazi names were reportedly chanted, that no formal complaints were made during the dinner itself about the party and that Mr Fournier only made a Nazi-style salute "at the prompting" of a journalist who was there and broke the story.
The initial French probe also looked at allegations of defending war crimes or crimes against humanity, promoting racial hatred and making racist insults but no action was taken.
Mr Burley caused another storm in 2012 when he branded the Olympic opening ceremony ''leftie multicultural crap''.
Fellow Conservative MP Michael Ellis defended his colleague.
"Aidan is a hard-working MP who is committed to his constituents in Cannock Chase and I do not believe Aidan is at all anti-Semitic," he said.
"He has paid a heavy price for his foolish behaviour over two years ago and has rightly apologised repeatedly for his error of judgment.
"I am confident he will be an effective representative for the people of Cannock Chase and he has a lot to offer in public life."
A Conservative party spokesman said: "Two years ago, the party investigated this matter.
"The findings of that investigation were that Aidan Burley behaved in a manner which was offensive and foolish, and that his behaviour was completely unacceptable.
"What he did was wrong. That is why, two years ago, he was removed from his post as parliamentary private secretary. He has since apologised publicly and sought to make amends, including by visiting Auschwitz."
The report confirmed that "a s best man, Mr Burley purchased the costume alongside the flights and other costs associated with the trip on behalf of the other attendees.
"Mr Burley argued strongly that the choice of costume was inspired by the British comic association with aspects of the war," it said.
"He categorically denies that there was any political motivation whatsoever.
"He argued that the purchase and wearing of the Nazi costume is legal in the UK and that he was unaware that wearing the costume could be an offence in France.
"He regrets the offence caused by the wearing of the costume."
In a letter of apology sent to the Jewish Chronicle shortly after the incident, Mr Burley said he wished he had left the party "as soon as I realised what was happening".
"What was happening was wrong and I should have completely dissociated myself from it," he told the newspaper.
"I had a choice, and I made the wrong choice not to leave. I apologise for this error of judgment," he added, saying being "so far from home made leaving early more difficult".