Police investigate allegedly racist remarks by biggest donor to Britain's Conservative government

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FILE - Then-Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott addresses anti-Brexit supporters in London, Oct. 19, 2019. Police say they are investigating whether the largest donor to Britains Conservative government committed a crime when he reportedly said a Black member of Parliament made him want to hate all Black women and that she should be shot. West Yorkshire police said Friday that they are investigating the allegedly racist remarks that businessman Frank Hester made in 2019 about Diane Abbott. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, File)

LONDON – Police in northern England said Friday that they are investigating whether the largest donor to Britain’s Conservative government committed a crime when he reportedly said a Black member of Parliament made him “want to hate all Black women” and that she “should be shot.”

Frank Hester, the chief executive of healthcare software firm The Phoenix Partnership, allegedly made the remarks in 2019 about Diane Abbott, the first Black woman to serve in the House of Commons.

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West Yorkshire Police said officers were “working to establish the facts and to ultimately ascertain whether a crime has been committed."

Hester apologized for making “rude” remarks about Abbott but said he’s not racist. A statement from his company said his comments had nothing to do with Abbott's skin color or gender.

Abbott disputed that Hester had apologized properly.

“He’s apologized for being rude, whereas in fact he was racist, and he’s not apologized for that,” Abbott told Channel 4 News. “In fact, he was inciting violence. He’s not apologized for that.”

The Tory party has resisted pressure from opposition politicians to return the 10 million pounds ($12.6 million) Hester has given to the party.

The comments reported March 11 by The Guardian swiftly embroiled the Conservatives in a controversy as they sought to criticize the remarks but refused for nearly 24 hours to label them as racist. The party, which has been in power for 14 years, faces an election later this year and polling shows them trailing far behind Labour.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak initially criticized Hester’s comments as “unacceptable,” but his spokesperson didn't label the remarks racist until Cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch, who is Black, broke ranks and accused Hester of racism.

“The alleged comments were wrong, they were racist," Sunak later told lawmakers. But he said Hester had “rightly apologized for them, and that remorse should be accepted.”

Hester's company has been paid more than 400 million pounds ($504 million) by the National Health Service and other government bodies since 2016, according to The Guardian.

Hester allegedly made the comments during a company meeting in Leeds.

“It’s like trying not to be racist but you see Diane Abbott on the TV, and you’re just like … you just want to hate all Black women because she’s there," Hester is reported to have said. "And I don’t hate all Black women at all, but I think she should be shot.”

Police asked anyone with information to come forward.

“We recognize the strong reaction to these allegations and appreciate everyone who has contacted us since the article was published," police said in a statement. "As we continue our inquiry, we are keen to hear from anyone who could directly assist our investigation.”

Abbott, 70, who was elected to the House of Commons in 1987 representing a northeast London district, said the remarks were frightening, especially since two British lawmakers have been murdered since 2016. The government said last month it would step up politicians’ security because of rising tensions over the Israel-Hamas war.

Abbott sits as an independent after being kicked out of the Labour Party caucus last year for comments that suggested Jewish and Irish people do not experience racism “all their lives.”

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