A PROTEST was held outside a Salisbury school after UKIP’s European candidate was not invited to sit on the panel at a city hustings.

It came after the school’s headmaster backed his students’ decision not to offer an invitation following the party’s defence of its candidate’s “rape tweet”.

The May 9 event, hosted by the Bishop Wordsworth’s School’s Politics Society, invited members of the Conservative, Labour, Brexit, Liberal Democrat, Green, and Change UK parties to talk to locals ahead of the European elections on May 23.

But UKIP were not invited to sit on the panel.

This, headmaster Stuart Smallwood says, was because the students did not agree with the party’s defence of local candidate Carl Benjamin’s “rape tweet”, which is now being investigated by police.

Another factor was the party’s “increasing association of the party with hard-right and intolerant views”, he added.

However, Dr Smallwood did stress that although the candidate was not invited to sit on the panel, he as well as the party’s supporters were “still welcome” at the event.

Nevertheless, local UKIP supporters gathered outside the school in protest of the decision.

One of those, Pat Conlon accused the school of “not honouring the democratic process” by snubbing the party, and argued that they weren’t told they were not “banned” from the hustings.

He said: “We wish that someone from the school would’ve told us this news so we could’ve spoken at the event.

“We would happily have gone in and spoken from the floor.”

But, regarding his party’s candidate not being invited, he added: “As far as we know, the house rules of the school have been broken; we believe it was a selective hustings.

“Our party topped the polls at the last European elections, which makes this decision even more disrespectful.

“We’re leaving it up to HQ to take whatever action they deem necessary.”

The snub also prompted UKIP leader Gerard Batten to take to social media site Twitter to call on “UKIP-pers” to “demand” the candidate is given a “platform”.

However, this call was never answered by the school, which stood by its original decision.

Speaking earlier in the day, Dr Smallwood said: “The school has been keen to ensure a wide range of views is represented from different parties, with the Brexit Party, Lib Dems, Labour, Conservatives, Change UK and Greens all sending candidates.

“The PolSoc hustings is always the biggest event in Salisbury at election time – 450 attended in 2015, and UKIP have always been invited before.

“The school made the decision not to invite UKIP this time for a number of reasons – their low polling ratings and the defection of nearly all their MEPs, including the two elected from Wiltshire in 2014, mostly to the Brexit party, was a factor.

“Also significant was the increasing association of the party with hard-right and intolerant views and individuals such as Tommy Robinson. But the key factor was the rape comments made by Carl Benjamin, a candidate in our own region, and the defence of these by other UKIP representatives including its leader.

“If one of our students was found to have made these comments on social media, they would be excluded, regardless of context – we hope we get across to all our students that ‘rape jokes’ are never acceptable regardless of context, and feel it is reasonable to apply that standard to groups we choose to invite into school.”