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BBC and ITV journalists apologise over reports that Tory advisor was punched by Labour activist

A claim that a Tory advisor was punched turned out not to be the case.

THERE WAS FURTHER controversy on the UK general election campaign trail this evening, after a claim on social media reported by a number of political journalists that a Labour activist had punched an advisor to a Conservative minister.

Subsequent footage of the incident posted after the initial claims shows the advisor to Health Secretary Matt Hancock walking into the outstretched hand of the man in question, rather than being punched by him.

The furore came after Hancock had travelled to Leeds General Hospital, where a photo of a four-year-old who had to sleep on a floor in the hospital had been taken and shared widely. 

Earlier today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson took a reporter’s phone and put it in his pocket after refusing to look at the photo of Jack Willement-Barr. 

Journalists who tweeted about the incident outside the Leeds hospital included BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg and ITV’s Robert Peston. 

In a tweet sent just after 4.30pm, Kuenssberg wrote: “So Matt Hancock was despatched to Leeds General (sorry not just Leeds Hospital), to try to sort out mess, hearing Labour activists scrambled to go + protest, and it turned nasty when they arrived – one of them punched Hancock’s adviser.”

laura k 1 Source: Twitter

A few minutes later, she added: “Not entirely clear what happened, but Tories suggesting Labour campaigners offered to pay cabs for activists to go and heckle Hancock – fair to say today not panning out as anyone had expected in what has been a relatively flat campaign.”

laura k 2 Source: Twitter

Peston tagged Hancock’s advisor in a tweet and said he’d been “whacked in the face”. 

peston Source: Twitter

West Yorkshire Police posted a tweet at 5.31pm to say they were aware of information circulating on social media regarding an alleged incident but they were “unaware of any reports of this nature”. 

In a video then shared by Kuenssberg just after 5.33pm it is clear that no punch is thrown and the advisor walks into a man’s outstretched arm. The man in question had angrily accused the Tories of underfunding the NHS and said they’d “absolutely devastated the country”. 

In her tweet with the video, Kuenssberg said: “Have video from Hancock leaving Leeds General just come through so you can see for yourself – doesn’t look like punch thrown, rather, one of Tory team walks into protestor’s arm, pretty grim encounter.”

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Peston later tweeted that it was “completely clear” from the footage that Hancock’s advisor was “not whacked by a protester, as I was told by senior Tories”. He added an apology for “getting this wrong”. 

Kuenssberg later added that Labour have accused the Tories of “resorting to bare faced lying” over the “punch that turned out not to be a punch”. 

She then said she was “happy to apologise for earlier confusion about the punch that wasn’t a punch”, and added that two sources had suggested it had happened.

“It is shocking that the Tories are so desperate to distract from a four-year-old boy sleeping on a hospital floor because of their cuts to our NHS that once again they have resorted to bare-faced lying,” a Labour spokeswoman said.

“This is a new low and the Conservative Party has serious questions to answer.”

The UK general election takes place this Thursday. 

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Sean Murray

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