A senior Ukip official has published a raft of personal messages that he claims prove he enjoyed a consensual relationship with a prospective parliamentary candidate who accuses him of sexual harassment. Roger Bird, who has been suspended as the party's general secretary pending a formal internal investigation, insisted he is not a "predator" and maintains the investigation will clear his name.
The claims of impropriety were made by Natasha Bolter, who says the official in charge of vetting candidates propositioned her after dinner at his club on the day he interviewed her as a would-be MP. Bolter - who defected from Labour in a blaze of publicity and was a star turn on stage at this year's Ukip conference - denies any romantic or sexual contact took place.
She has withdrawn from the race to contest the key South Basildon seat in Essex. But Bird, a former Conservative councillor who quit the Tories in 2009 and switched to the eurosceptic party the following year, released part of what he said was a large collection of emails, texts and photographs which backed his side of the story.
He said the six-week liaison began "some time after" the candidate assessment and was ended by him on November 2. Among the messages he disclosed via The Telegraph, one read: "But I love u and miss u and think u r sort of perfect..." Another, apparently referring to the close of the Ukip conference in Doncaster, read: "R u still cool with me leaving suitcase here and coming home with u? Xx".
Others expressed sentiments such as "really missing u bird", "U r not coming back and accordingly my life will go back to a meaningless void" and "U r a really great mentor bird". About releasing the texts, he said: "I felt that had to be a rapid and public refutation of allegations made in public about me.
"Natasha Bolter and I were in a consensual relationship. This took place some time after her candidate assessment. All of the suggestions that I was being some kind of predator and all the rest of it is entirely unsubstantiated by the facts." Asked why he thought Bolter was making up the claims against him, he said: "I really could not even hazard a guess. I suspect that perhaps she's fallen out of love with Ukip for reasons unconnected to me."
Bolter admitted that she had sent a series of messages to Bird, but told BBC2's Newsnight: "None of them changes my story," adding "I did not sleep with Roger Bird, end of."
In an interview for the programme, she said: "When I said no nothing happened. He's a gentleman. I never felt scared of him, I just felt pressured maybe that if I did the right thing my career would go faster and further. He wasn't taking me seriously as a candidate; he was looking at me as a sex object."
She said the issue could have been dealt with by way of a "tap on the wrist" if the party had acted more swiftly and both parties continued. But she suggested it was part of a wider issue.
"We need to look at it in the greater picture: if they are not looking after a candidate that is going to stand in one of their target seats who is bringing forward serious allegations of sexism and racism and misogyny, are they really going to look after our electorate."
Bird said Ukip Ukiphad behaved "absolutely correctly" in suspending him and launching the investigation - which a party spokesman said is expected to take place before Christmas. "The party needed to respond to a serious allegation and something like sexual harassment is exceptionally serious," he said.
Asked if he expects to be restored to his role as general secretary, he said: "I'm looking forward to campaigning hard for the party. My enthusiasm is undiminished." The pair met on September 10 for one of four assessments on her suitability as a general election candidate.
Bolter said that evening it became clear to her that he "wasn't really interested in what I had to offer as a politician. He took me down to the snooker room and said 'I find you very attractive'. He said, 'Would you like to come home with me?'"
Bird suggested there had been a mix-up between events at the club and that a relationship began on September 18 and finished on November 2. I brought matters to a close at that date".