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Tory donor Frank Hester says ‘differences should be discussed playfully’ amid Diane Abbott racism row

The Tory donor accused of saying Diane Abbott “should be shot” has suggested differences should be discussed “playfully without seeking to cause offence”.

Frank Hester, who also allegedly said looking at the MP makes you “want to hate all black women”, said Britain should “celebrate the rich diversity of people”.

The businessman, who is the Conservative Party’s biggest donor having handed it £10m in the past year, is under fire over the comments which have been condemned by Labour as “racist”.

Diane Abbott said Mr Hester’s comments were ‘frightening’ and has reported him to the police (AFP via Getty Images)
Diane Abbott said Mr Hester’s comments were ‘frightening’ and has reported him to the police (AFP via Getty Images)

But, in a statement on Tuesday, Mr Hester repeated the claim that he “abhors” racism as a “poison that has no place in public life”.

He confirmed that, at the meeting where he made the remarks first reported by The Guardian, he also said: “For me, racism is a hatred and a fear of the other.

“For me, it is exactly the same as homophobia - it’s not limited to the colour of your skin, it is not limited to religion, it can just be the country next door. It can be northerners and southerners, which we have here."

And he added: “The UK benefits immensely from the rich diversity of people - like my parents - who had roots in another land, religion and culture. We should celebrate those differences which have made us the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy.

Frank Hester donated £10 million to the Tories last year (CHOGM Rwanda 2022/YouTube/PA) (PA Wire)
Frank Hester donated £10 million to the Tories last year (CHOGM Rwanda 2022/YouTube/PA) (PA Wire)

“And we should have the confidence to discuss our differences openly and even playfully without seeking to cause offence.”

Despite his suggestion that his comments about Ms Abbott being “shot” and making him “want to hate all black women”, the long-serving MP said Mr Hester’s comments were “frightening”.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ms Abbott said: “It is frightening. I live in Hackney, I don’t drive, so I find myself, at weekends, popping on a bus or even walking places, more than most MPs.”

Sir Keir Starmer has described Mr Hester’s alleged remarks as “abhorrent” and urged the Conservative Party to hand back his money. The Labour leader defended Ms Abbott as a “trailblazer” who has inspired others, while saying he does not “buy” the Tory line that Mr Hester’s comments were not racist or sexist.

He said: “Those comments about Diane Abbott are just abhorrent. Diane has been a trailblazer, she has paved the way for others.

“She has probably faced more abuse than any other politician over the years on a sustained basis.

“And I’m sorry, this apology this morning that pretends what was said was not racist or was not anything to do with the fact she is a woman… I don’t buy that, I’m afraid.”

It came as The Independent revealed that Ms Abbott has reported Mr Hester to the police over the remarks.

In a statement issued on Tuesday morning, Ms Abbott said: “It is frightening. I live in Hackney, I don’t drive, so I find myself, at weekends, popping on a bus or even walking places, more than most MPs.

“I am a single woman and that makes me vulnerable anyway. But to hear someone talking like this is worrying.”

She added: “For all of my career as an MP I have thought it important not to live in a bubble, but to mix and mingle with ordinary people. The fact that two MPs have been murdered in recent years makes talk like this all the more alarming.

“I’m currently not a member of the parliamentary Labour party, but remain a member of the Labour party itself, so I am hoping for public support from Keir Starmer.”