Reform UK Sutton Coldfield candidate will not face police investigation over 'IRA-lover' claim

A montage with Reform UK candidate, Mark Hoath, left, and Liberal Democrats candidate, John Sweeney, left both standing in Sutton Coldfield at the General Election
-Credit: (Image: Jane Haynes/BirminghamLive)

A General Election candidate who was referred to the police over a possible breach of electoral law will not face an investigation. Reform UK's Mark Hoath claimed a rival in the Sutton Coldfield constituency, Liberal Democrat John Sweeney, was an ‘IRA-loving homophobic candidate’.

The row erupted after Mr Hoath posted online a 2019 recording of Mr Sweeney expressing his admiration for the late Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander turned Sinn Fein politician who became deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.

Mr Sweeney, a former BBC investigative journalist, said the conversation was recorded without his knowledge by a supporter of far-right activist, Tommy Robinson, and edited to remove his clarification that he admired McGuinness because he "stopped killing people and argued with his own side for peace".

READ MORE: Reform UK candidate referred to police over 'false' IRA claim against rival

The video also showed Mr Sweeney saying: “Asian cab drivers don’t like taking dogs.” and using a rhyming slang term for a homosexual. In a now-deleted post on X/Twitter on June 11, Mr Hoath posted: “On the back of yesterday’s Lib Dem manifesto launch here’s the IRA loving homophobic candidate for #suttoncoldfield.”

The Reform candidate later apologised, posting on X on June 14: "On reflection describing John Sweeney as an IRA lover was an error. However, I was simply pointing out that describing the former head of the IRA your political hero is a huge mistake. As is referring to homosexuals in derogatory terms. Apologies John for the error”. That post remained on X as of Wednesday, July 3.

Mr Sweeney vehemently denied any attachment to the IRA and had urged Mr Hoath to retract the claim. He posted: “Mark Hoath, the Reform candidate for Sutton Coldfield, tweeted that I am the 'IRA-loving' Lib Dem candidate for the same seat. To Mark Hoath, I say this: 'Mark, we are in the hurly-burly of a general election but I am asking you to delete that tweet because I abhor the IRA.

"They killed a friend of mine. In the full recording, I said one of my political heroes was the former head of the IRA, Martin McGuinness, because he stopped killing people and argued with his own side for peace."

He also denied allegations he was "racist and homophobic" and added: "My friend Lyra McKee [who was homosexual] was killed by the IRA and while I was mourning at her funeral at Belfast Cathedral I was harassed by a Robinson supporter."

Reform UK candidate Mark Hoath
John Sweeney is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Sutton Coldfield at the general election.

Addressing Mr Hoath, he added: "'I am asking you to delete this and all associated tweets and to ask your supporters to do the same. You can call me all sorts of names but not ‘IRA loving’ because that is untrue and so misleads the voters in our constituency, which neither of us should ever do'."

In an interview with BirminghamLive, Mr Sweeney accepted he was "uncomfortable" with the taxi driver remark but said he was neither racist nor homophobic and the video did not show the full context. He said: “I think I would have said some people’s cultures are different from white people’s cultures.

"For example I have a dog and Asian taxi drivers are less comfortable with dogs in their car than the white community. When you take things in the round its more difficult [to say I am racist].

“I crack jokes. I would say that (rhyming slang) remark is a joke and not an indictment of people who are gay. I have supported gay rights since I was at school in the 70s. The taxi driver comment, I am uncomfortable with it but it happens some of the time. I am a Liberal Democrat to the core of my being.”

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But the Liberal Democrats referred Mr Hoath to West Midlands Police. A party spokeswoman said: “We can confirm Mr Hoath was referred on June 17 to West Midlands Police by the Party's head of compliance for potential breach of section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.”

West Midlands Police initially said: “We’ve received a complaint about comments made on social media about a General Election candidate in the Sutton Coldfield constituency. We are assessing the information and liaising with the returning officer to establish if there have been any breaches of electoral law.”

It later said Mr Hoath was not subject to any police enquiry as there were ‘no criminal offences to investigate’. A spokesman said: “We reviewed the information made available to us and determined there were no criminal offences to investigate.”

Here's a full list of candidates standing in Sutton Coldfield.

Andrew Mitchell - Conservatives

Rob Pocock - Labour

John Sweeney - Liberal Democrats

Ben Auton - Green Party

Mark Hoath - Reform UK

Wajad Burkey - Workers Party of Great Britain