Northern Ireland

Tory donor under fire over comments about black politician says he faced racism as a child of Irish immigrants

Conservative Party facing calls to return £10m after remarks made by Frank Hester about former Labour MP Diane Abbot surfaced

Businessman Frank Hester with his mother after receiving an OBE
Businessman Frank Hester with his mother after receiving an OBE

Businessman and Conservative Party donor Frank Hester, at the centre of controversy over remarks about a black, female politician, claimed he suffered racism as the child of Irish immigrants.

The party is facing call from Labour to return £10m in donations made by Mr Hester in the past year, the head of the West Yorkshire-headquartered TPP, a healthcare technology firm following publication of the remarks.

Mr Hester has apologised for “rude” remarks he made about the former Labour MP Diane Abbot at an internal meeting within his company in 2019.

Tory donor Frank Hester has apologised for remarks he made about MP Diane Abbott
Tory donor Frank Hester has apologised for remarks he made about MP Diane Abbott (Dominc Lipinski/PA)

He told the gathering that after watching Ms Abbot on television “you just want to hate all black women”, before adding he did not “hate black women at all”.

The businessman also said Ms Abbot should be “shot”, according to the remarks published by the Guardian newspaper.

His solicitors, in a statement, said Mr Hester “accepts that he was rude about Diane Abbott in a private meeting several years ago but his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

It continued: “The Guardian is right when it quotes Frank saying he abhors racism, not least because he experienced it as the child of Irish immigrants in the 1970s.”

Mr Hester attempted to make contact with Ms Abbot to apologise personally said “wishes to make it clear that he regards racism as a poison which has no place in public life”.

Ms Abbott was a Labour MP for more than 35 years until suspended by the party last April when she said Jewish, Irish and Travellers were not subject to racism “all their lives”.

She also said they “undoubtedly experience prejudice” and apologised.

In a social media post on Sunday, ahead of the publication of the story, Mr Hester delivered a comprehensive description of his own background, including the struggles and influence of his immigrant parents from Co Mayo.

He described how his mother was the eldest of four siblings who left for England aged16. She met her husband in Leeds. Together, he said, they built a multi-million plastering business.

“So firm was her belief in equality that she was furious on one trip back to Ireland to discover that there was a first-class category on the boat,” Mr Hester wrote.

Frank Hester
Frank Hester

“It was mum who taught me that if you don’t look down on anyone, you instinctively don’t look up at anyone either.

“She made me appreciate that everyone is as good as everyone else, where it matters.

“I am immensely proud of my roots in County Mayo, but one of the most striking tributes to my mum, a proud Irish woman, is that she made me so extremely proud to be English.”