UKIP has been accused of attempting to “sabotage” a charity event intended to get young people interested in politics.
Northumberland youth charity Leading Link blamed the UK Independence Party for its decision to reschedule a Question Time-style event.
And the charity said police were even drafted in to cover a replacement event on Thursday night, in case of disruption.
The question-and-answer event has been held by the Bedlington-based charity for the last four years, and sees a debate between local schoolchildren, members of the public and guests.
It was due held at County Hall in Morpeth on Thursday, and young people had invited representatives from the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties to attend.
UKIP were not invited, which the party claimed was “undemocratic”.
Leading Link said it was contacted by a string of regional and national UKIP representative demanding to know why the party had not been invited, with one claiming the charity was contravening various acts.
Charity bosses say they explained that attendees had been selected by the young people and made it clear the event was not linked to May’s general election.
But then, the charity says, several tickets were acquired online in the names of local UKIP figures.
And the organisers took the decision to postpone the event until after the general election.
In place of the cancelled event, a replacement just for the young people was organised with just the current Wansbeck MP, Labour’s Ian Lavery.
And the charity said it had arranged for Northumbria Police to attend, in case of any disturbance.
Charity assistant manager Jonny Hall said:
“The reason why we were holding it was to give these young people a real experience of debating and making a positive change.
“Because we now feel that the spirit would be completely lost and it became a politically-motivated campaign, we have since cancelled it and moved to this closed session instead.
“The whole thing has been completely blown out of proportion. The fact a school debate is having to be cancelled speaks volumes.”
Mr Lavery hit out at UKIP for “jeopardising” the chances of young people getting engaged in politics.
He added: “Lyn (Horton, charity manager) said she has never known anything like this. It is sad we have not had the original event.”
The media officer for UKIP’s Wansbeck branch, said it was “blatantly untrue” to claim the event was not political given the attendance of the other parties.
“Why invite three politicians? And how do you educate the young people if you do not invite all political views?” he said. “It is totally undemocratic.”
“I think they have cancelled because they knew we would get it advertised to the public in Wansbeck. We had kicked up a bit of a fuss.”
Asked if anyone from UKIP would be attending the event, he added: “Nobody knows where it is.”
Northumbria Police confirmed that officers were attending. A spokesperson said:
“Members of the Neighbourhood Policing Teams regularly attend community events to continue to build on the strong links already in place.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 Mar 2015