HOME secretary Priti Patel has been accused of snubbing voters after she failed to take part in an election debate in Witham.

The Conservative was invited to the hustings at St Nicolas' Church on Monday night.

Her three political opponents all attended, but organisers said Ms Patel waited until the last minute to say she would not be turning up.

Instead she was at a Conservative rally in Colchester along with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Rev Paul Watkin chaired the hustings in Witham.

He said organisers had done all they could to make it possible for Ms Patel to attend.

He said it was the second election in a row Ms Patel had not turned up for a pre-election debate in the town.

"Priti Patel was a no-show for the second time running," said Mr Watkin.

"We gave her first dibs and about a dozen dates after the election was announced.

"Frankly I think it is terrible that she doesn't seem to care about constituents in her home town and the seat she is defending.

"She was given an awful lot of notice and multiple dates.

"We went out of our way to get her there and she didn't come.

"She gave a non-descript apology which came in on the day of the hustings saying she had other commitments.

Mr Watkin added: "It's not fair to the people she is representing, particularly because it is the main town in her constituency.

"In the end we just went with a date because we hadn't heard anything from her, and then at the last minute she said she couldn't come.

"It's unfair for her not to give people the opportunity to scrutinise her.

"The other three candidates all came and it was a very well received evening - we had more than 150 people there."

Braintree and Witham Times:

  • CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Ms Patel was at a rally in Colchester with Boris Johnson

A Green Party spokesman said: "At the start of the hustings the absence of Priti Patel was questioned and it was explained that great efforts has been made by the organisers to choose a date so she could attend.

"A Conservative representative then took the microphone and explained to all present that Priti Patel could not attend as she had "ministerial duties."

Ms Patel said: "Due to national commitments including Government business, handing security matters and campaigning, it was not possible for my to attend the hustings in Witham.

"A statement was sent on my behalf and residents are welcome to contact me directly with any questions and queries for responses.

"During the campaign I have been pleased to meet residents from across the Witham constituency, have great conversations on the doorsteps and deal with many enquiries and questions."

But Green Party election hopeful James Abbott was scathing about the Conservative candidate's absence.

"Many residents turned out on a cold night in Witham to ask their candidates lots of good questions," he said.

"However the Local Tory MP, who always says she is so active in the constituency, was not there and nor was she there for the same event at the last General Election.

"It appears she was at a Tory rally just up the road in Colchester.

"Would it not have just been honest for her representative to have admitted that fact rather than paint a different picture?"

The other candidates contesting Witham are Labour's Dr Martin Edobor and Liberal Democrat Sam North.

Election candidates spell out why you should vote for them - Pages 4&5