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Chaos as Lib Dem candidate Claire Malcomson refuses to take part in hustings

A debate on local health services descended into chaos after a candidate refused to take part.

The hustings at Christ Church University in Canterbury last night was billed as an opportunity for parliamentary candidates to answer questions relating to health and social care.

Hannah Temple, Anna Firth and Rita O'Brien fielding questions at the debate... Claire Malcomson had taken leave of the venue
Hannah Temple, Anna Firth and Rita O'Brien fielding questions at the debate... Claire Malcomson had taken leave of the venue

At the last minute, Labour candidate Rosie Duffield had to pull out due to illness - leaving Labour representative Rita O'Brien standing in.

Canterbury's Conservative candidate Anna Firth appeared at the event, alongside Hannah Temple, Green Party candidate for Faversham.

But the debate broke into angry heckling before it even began, when the Lib Dems announced their Canterbury candidate Claire Malcomson would not be taking part.

Addressing the audience, a party spokesman said: "I'd just like to apologise to you on behalf of Claire - we won't be taking part tonight. Good luck to all the candidates."

Muttering broke out amongst the audience, before someone announced, "Claire is here", prompting the entire crowd to crane to look at the back of the lecture theatre, where Ms Malcomson was sitting quietly.

Claire Malcomson was announced as the Lib Dem candidate earlier this month
Claire Malcomson was announced as the Lib Dem candidate earlier this month

Standing, and accepting a roaming microphone, she said: "I am here. Because it's not a proper hustings now, I decided to back out - I'm very sorry. I've actually taken three hours to get here."

Much muttering ensued, before another Lib Dem spokesman took the microphone and said: "It's not a proper hustings.

"There isn't even, let's face it, sadly, a Green candidate on the ballot paper. People having come to hear the candidates speak.

"I think our candidate has decided - although I know she wasn't happy about letting down any of the students who are here particularly - that she feels as it is debate without being a proper complete candidate hustings, that she would rather not take part."

But angry audience members continued to heckle Ms Malcomson, with one shouting: "You're frightened to address a hostile audience."

Responding, the candidate said: "I just have addressed you thank you and I'm apologising - that is my decision.

"You can heckle me, it's fine. I don't mind what you say to me. That's my decision, because we now have one candidate there - there's only one candidate and there are actually four."

One man angrily responded: "Yes but one is ill - for goodness sakes! You've got an audience here - you ought to address them. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

As the audience continued to express their dismay, Ms Malcomson promptly left the lecture hall through a back exit, to jeers of "bye".

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