'Swastika' hot cross bun row sees Portsmouth Conservative councillor Lee Mason suspended from Tory party

A FORMER Lord Mayor of Portsmouth has been suspended after baking a hot cross bun that appeared to have a swastika ‘emblazoned’ on it over Easter.

Thursday, 16th April 2020, 9:09 am
Updated Friday, 17th April 2020, 9:38 am

Tory councillor Lee Mason is no longer a member of the party while an investigation is carried out into the situation.

He strenuously denies baking any bun with a swastika on it.

His suspension comes after a photo from his Snapchat was leaked to The News. It shows five of the traditional Easter snacks cooling on a metal rack.

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The former Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Cllr Lee Mason, pictured retiring from the role in 2019. Picture: Vernon Nash

A swastika-style emblem – similar to one used by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, whose party slaughtered millions of Jews during the Second World War – appeared to have been baked on one.

The news has outraged a Jewish rights group, who demanded action from the Tories.

A spokesman for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: ‘Next week the Jewish community will be observing Yom HaShoah, remembering the six million Jewish men, women and children slaughtered during the Holocaust just for being Jewish.

‘Whether the emblazoning of a swastika on a hot cross bun was meant as a celebration of the abominable Nazi regime or a joke, the Jewish community and local residents in Portsmouth expect better from their representatives, and the Conservative Party must investigate this councillor's conduct immediately.’

Former Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Cllr Lee Mason has been suspended from the Tory party after baking a hot cross bun with a swastika-like symbol on it. Picture: Habibur Rahman

But a former Jewish city councillor has defended Cllr Mason, insisting the under-fire Tory was ‘absolutely not an anti-Semite’.

Jezz Baker, who was a Tory councillor for seven years, claimed the image looked ‘more like a Hindu symbol’ than a swastika.

The 58-year-old added: ‘I’m a Pompey Jew, born and bred, and my hatred for swastikas is enormous.

‘But if there is one person that is not anti-Semitic and has nothing Nazi about him whatsoever it’s Lee Mason.

Cllr Lee Mason pictured on his phone near Portsmouth Crown Court in February, 2019. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘Lee has been so, so supportive to the Jewish people of Portsmouth since he was a student. He is such a nice guy. I’d trust him with my life.’

Councillor Mason denied baking a bun with a swastika on it and insisted the image must have been altered online somehow.

However, the Cosham ward councillor did admit all the other buns, including one with the word ‘sex’, another with an expletive and a third with what he described as a Scottish National Party logo, were his and had not been changed in any way.

But he said: ‘I have not baked a bun with a Nazi symbol. You can see from the picture that is not a Nazi symbol.

The hot cross buns baked by Portsmouth Conservative councillor Lee Mason, right, including one that looks like it has a swastika emblazoned on it and another which has an obscenity - blurred out

‘I baked some cakes, yes, but I haven’t done a Nazi symbol on any of them. And there’s no Nazi symbols there.’

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Nitzan Cohen, a committee member of the Portsmouth and Southsea Hebrew Congregation, agreed. Supporting Cllr Mason, who he claimed ‘loved to bake cakes’, he said: ‘The most important thing is that this is not a Nazi swastika, there’s a big difference between a Nazi one and what Lee did.’

However, Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, said Cllr Mason might now face a deeper investigation by the council.

‘At a time when our whole community is pulling together to support each other, anything suggesting the use of the most offensive of symbols is shockingly inappropriate and shameful,’ he said.

‘If true, it may also breach the members’ code of conduct. It is only right that serious and legitimate concerns be reported to the city council under its complaints system for councillors.’

Cllr Mason claimed someone had ‘deliberately’ launched a smear campaign against him by ‘photoshopping’ or ‘trimming’ the bottom of the picture to make the design look swastika-like.

‘I’m partly bemused, partly offended that I am being got at like this. I don’t know what someone’s motive is behind it,’ he told The News.

The councillor, who served as Portsmouth’s former first citizen between 2018 and 2019, has previously attended Holocaust Memorial Day events in Portsmouth and insisted he would never have done anything to deliberately offend the Jewish community.

‘It’s not something that I would find palatable in any way,’ he added.

A spokeswoman on behalf of Portsmouth North Conservative Association said: 'Cllr Lee Mason has been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation.'

Councillors were informed of the suspension last night by David Williams, chief executive of Portsmouth City Council.

In an email, he said Cllr Mason was now an independent and was no longer the Tory spokesman for resources at the authority.

This role is now the job of Cllr Frank Jonas.