UKIP has been thrown into turmoil with a series of members quitting over its county organiser’s criminal past.
The trouble flared over the election of Portsmouth South chairman Paul Lovegrove on January 12.
He has a criminal record with convictions for violent crimes – and he has served two prison sentences.
Fareham’s prospective parliamentary candidate Don Jerrard left his campaign earlier this week.
Portsmouth city councillor Paul Godier and former Fareham and Gosport chairman Bob Ingram have also quit the party.
But Ukip leader Nigel Farage said he is standing by Mr Lovegrove, whose last prison sentence was in 2005.
Mr Farage said: ‘We believe that people deserve a second chance in life.
‘Mr Lovegrove may have fallen off the rails earlier in his life but he is now totally reformed and we are standing by him 100 per cent. We knew about his past.
‘With any political party, having people from all walks of life is a bonus.
After all you can’t have every party full of Oxbridge graduates.’
Mr Lovegrove’s past was brought to the fore by repeated outbursts at meetings from Fareham prospective parliamentary candidate Mr Jerrard, who has since quit his campaign due to the situation.
He said that he believed more people will walk out from the branch when they discover the extent of Mr Lovegrove’s convictions. He said: ‘I won’t have anything to do with them. It is a shambles.’
Mr Jerrard said senior figures in Ukip had still not spoken to him.
He added: ‘They are in turmoil because they don’t know what to do.
‘They have not spoken to the people on the ground, the people that have made these complaints.
‘They are a total shambles, all of their own making.’
Mr Lovegrove has spoken openly about his criminal convictions, which he said he never hid from the party.
He said: ‘Honesty gets you a long way. People don’t like it. They find it scary.
‘I am everything they despise as I can talk from experience.
‘I have lived through all of these things. Who can represent us? It’s got to be one of us.
‘It is a shame they are trying to drag someone down who is a real son of this city.
‘Ukip have put their money where their mouth is by supporting me.’
Mr Jerrard is not alone in his complaint, with Charles Dickens ward councillor Mr Godier leaving Ukip earlier this month giving Mr Lovegrove’s behaviour as the main reason.
Mr Ingram, who until recently was the chairman of Fareham and Gosport branch of Ukip, quit over the way the complaints were handled.
But other Ukip members have been vocal in their support for Mr Lovegrove.
Steve Harris, Ukip’s parliamentary candidate for Portsmouth South, said: ‘Paul is a hard-working lad.
‘He has had problems in the past, but he has paid his dues and on he is going.’
Steve Hastings, Portsmouth’s deputy Ukip group leader, also said he supported Mr Lovegrove.
Meanwhile, Mr Farage said this was not going to affect the Portsmouth campaign.
He said: ‘I don’t think the likes or dislikes of one person will affect how tens of thousands of people will vote.
‘You get divisions in all political parties but it does not affect what we stand for and we stand for the normal working class person.
‘We are more united, focused and more able to get on with the job.’
‘I have learnt from my mistakes in the past’
HE is the man at the centre of a series of political rows which have seen key Ukip members quit the party.
But Paul Lovegrove, the chairman of Portsmouth South Ukip and Hampshire organiser, says his criminal past gives him the experience to be able to talk competently on subjects such as prison reform and the justice system.
Mr Lovegrove has served two prison sentences – one for wounding with intent in 1996 and one for actual bodily harm in 2000.
After leaving the Royal Navy, he got into trouble when a family feud ended up with him grabbing a bread knife from the kitchen and slashing a man’s face in a fight.
For this offence he was given a two-year sentence, of which he served a year. A few years later, after a string of criminal convictions for drug possession, he tried to turn his life around and went to college. During this time he got into a fight with a man and absconded to Spain to avoid a charge of actual bodily harm.
Mr Lovegrove, now 43, lived on the Costa Del Sol for five years, where he met his ex partner. They had two children and in 2005 they returned to England.
A few months later, following the breakdown of his relationship, he claims he was beaten up in Guildford.
An allegation of sexual assault at knifepoint against him followed. He was cleared of at trial.
But Mr Lovegrove was sent back to prison for a year for the previous actual bodily harm charge.
After coming out of prison in 2008, he decided to channel his energies into the community and he ran a music festival in aid of Oxfam on Castle Field in Southsea.
Through music he was introduced to politics and started to take an interest in helping shape the way the city is run.
He said: ‘I am a product of this country they claim to govern so well. I have lived everything, much the same as everybody else – not living just surviving. It has not been pleasant. I am involved with politics but I am in this for the right reasons.
‘I have learnt from my mistakes – they happened 10 and 20 years ago and if we have never made any mistakes to learn by then how can we lead?’
Fourteen months ago he joined Ukip, rising quickly to Portsmouth South chairman and elected Hampshire organiser on January 12. The party won six seats at last May’s local elections, something he attributes to the party taking on ordinary people.
He said: ‘I have had the pleasure and pain of life experiences which I hope to pass on through politics. I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth, like most people. The people in politics come from a different world. They don’t have any idea.’