Ukip's Mike Hookem puts his hands up - in bizarre bid to PROVE he didn't hit colleague as party bigwigs say Steven Woolfe can't now run for leader
- Mike Hookem claims he 'defended himself' in what he describes as 'handbags at dawn, girl-on-girl' scuffle
- Ukip leadership hopeful Steven Woolfe was rushed to hospital after being 'punched' by MEP' Mike Hookem
- He had 'two seizures' and claims Hookem 'came at him and landed a blow' at EU Parliament in Strasbourg
- But a spokesman for Mike Hookem denies claims that he punched Mr Woolfe during the astonishing row
- Interim leader Nigel Farage launched inquiry into incident and said it is not how 'grown ups' behave
- Woolfe will stay in Strasbourg hospital until Sunday as new photos show him recovering in bed this morning
- Pressure grows on Woolfe to quit leadership race as Ukip MEPs say it is 'obvious' he can't consider standing
The Ukip punch-up row has taken a bizarre turn, after Mike Hookem released a photograph of his hands to 'prove' that he did not hit fellow MEP Steven Woolfe.
Mr Hookem said he did not punch the Ukip leadership hopeful, describing the incident as a 'handbags at dawn, girl-on-girl' scuffle.
In the photograph, there do not appear to be any bruises or abrasions on his hands.
The Ukip punch-up row has taken a bizarre turn, after Mike Hookem published a photograph of his hands to 'prove' that he did not hit fellow MEP Steven Woolfe
Mr Hookem told the Express: 'He came at me, I defended myself. There were no punches thrown, there was no face slapping, there were no digs, there was nothing.'
Ukip MEPs began to turn on Woolfe tonight, warning the alleged scrap between him and his colleague should end his hopes of being party leader.
Mr Woolfe was still in hospital tonight and was due to stay over the weekend for further tests after he collapsed at the European Parliament in Strasbourg after the astonishing clash.
The MEP had been the front-runner to take over Ukip after Diane James quit the leadership after just 18 days and without ever completing the paperwork to officially take over the job.
Mr Hookem finally broke cover today more than 24 hours after the scrap in the European Parliament in Strasbourg to give his side of the story and insist no punches had been thrown.
Ukip's Mike Hookem (pictured speaking to BBC Radio Humberside this afternoon) insisted 'no punches were thrown' in the altercation with his colleague Steven Woolfe and played down the incident by claiming 'every party has politicians that fight their corner vigorously'
Steven Woolfe, pictured, gave a thumbs up gesture in hospital as he recovers from injuries sustained in a 'scuffle' following clear-the-air talks with fellow Ukip MEPs in Strasbourg
In a round of extraordinary interviews, he admitted it was 'quite embarrassing' for a 'grandfather' to get embroiled in the row but insisted the scuffle had been nothing more than 'handbags at dawn, girl-on-girl' as he gave a bizarre account of the altercation between 'a pair of tarts' .
Interim party leader Nigel Farage - who was thrust back into the limelight by Ms James reversal - has ordered an inquiry into the bizarre incident. Standards chiefs at the European Parliament have begun their own probe.
But the incident appears to damaged Mr Woolfe's leadership bid, with a growing number of Ukip MEPs blaming him for yesterday's incident and demanding he abandons his campaign to replace Mr Farage.
Ukip MEP Jonathan Arnott said: 'This really portrays Ukip in an appalling light. Our hardworking members who put leaflets through doors expect better from their MEPs. I think it is absolutely disgusting this incident happened.
Interim Ukip leader Nigel Farage (pictured visiting Steven Woolfe in hospital yesterday) has launched an internal inquiry into the incident
'It must surely be obvious to anybody having seen this that Steven Woolfe cannot now consider standing in a leadership contest.'
The blame game within the party escalated this afternoon as Gerard Batten, MEP for London, laid the blame for yesterday's incident squarely at Mr Woolfe's feet.
In a blog post giving his version of events, the co-founder of Ukip explained how Mr Woolfe had challenged Mike to 'settle things outside' shortly after the start of a meeting to discuss allegations he had held talks with the Conservatives about his possible defection.
'Mike followed Steven out of the room in to an ante room,' Mr Batten explained. 'We could not see what happened but an audible altercation ensued which lasted no more than a few seconds. Mr Woolfe than fell back through the door.'
Hookem described the incident as a 'handbags at dawn, girl-on-girl' scuffle
Mr Batten said the 'real story here is not about the kerfuffle between the two' but 'what Steven Woolfe did or did not do' in regards to holding meetings about defecting to the Tories.
In a sign that the pair are keen to reconcile and repair the reputational damage done to the party, Mr Hookem said he had replied to an email from Mr Woolfe this morning offering the 'hand of friendship' and they have agreed to meet.
Mr Woolfe, a married father of one, said he will stay in hospital for at least another 48 hours after suffering two seizures from the astonishing altercation but was in good spirits today, telling colleagues he was 'sick of croissants' and 'looking forward to a good full English breakfast'.
But he and Mr Hookem face being stripped of their allowances and voting rights in the European Parliament after its president Martin Schulz launched his own investigation into their altercation.
As he attempts to reconcile the party today, Mr Woolfe said he will not report Mr Hookem to the police. He has 'realised that things did go too far in the MEP meeting,' his ally and fellow MEP Nathan Gill said today.
The altercation between the pair took place at what was supposed to be a 'clear the air' meeting of the party's MEPs following the sensational resignation of leader Diane James.
Mr Hookem, Ukip's defence spokesman, challenged Mr Woolfe over his admission that he had considered defecting to the Tories but strenuously denied Mr Woolfe's claims that he had 'punched' him.
New photos of Steven Woolfe this morning show him recovering in his hospital bed with a wet towel on his injured head
Mr Woolfe, the favourite to become Ukip leader, collapsed at the European Parliament building in Strasbourg after being punched by another MEP at a 'clear the air' meeting. Images published by ITV News appear to show him sprawled unconscious on the floor
Speaking about the incident this afternoon, Mr Hookem said he had acted in self-defence and dismissed the 'outrageous claims' being made by Mr Woolfe that he 'came at me and landed a blow'.
'I didn't throw a punch at him, I did not cause those injuries,' Mr Hookem told BBC Radio Humberside.
'It has been blown up out of all proportion... it was a scuffle,' he added. Mr Hookem said he had agreed to meet Mr Woolfe for a 'clear the air' meeting and said the pair will shake hands and 'move on'.
Steven Woolfe's ally and fellow MEP Nathan Gill (pictured) told reporters this morning that Mr Woolfe does not want Mr Hookem to be suspended and has 'realised that things did go too far in the MEP meeting'
He claimed Mr Woolfe had 'fallen over his own feet going back in to the room'.
Mr Hookem added: 'There was no punches thrown, there was no blows thrown, there was no slapped faces, there was no pushing, there was a tussle between an elderly grandfather and a 40-year old MEP.
'Quite silly, quite embarrassing, handbags at dawn, girl-on-girl, it was embarrassing, it lasted seconds, whereas the door opened, Mr Woolfe fell back into the room onto a male MEP.
'His head never hit any glass, any metal, any chair or anything…. I never punched Steven Woolfe.'
He gave an even more bizarre account of the altercation to the Daily Telegraph, saying: 'I am 63 year old portly grandfather. I do not go rolling about the floor with people at my time of life.
'When you are on the floor the problem for me is getting up again. My hands were never round anyone's neck – it was the pair of us hugging each other like a pair of tarts.'
However, the pair could be in trouble with the European Parliament's authorities and president Mr Schulz condemned the 'disrespectful and violent behaviour' and said he had referred the 'regrettable matter' to the Advisory Committee to establish if either of the pair had breached the Parliament's code of conduct.
The pair could lose access to the European Parliament for up to 10 days - barring them from voting and claiming expenses.
Speaking to the Mail from his hospital bed last night, Mr Woolfe said Mr Hookem 'came at me and landed a blow'.
Mr Woolfe and Mr Hookem are pictured in happier times while campaigning in Newark, Nottinghamshire, in May 2014
Speaking to reporters outside the hospital after visiting Mr Woolfe this morning, Nathan Gill (pictured second right) 'it was at one stage touch and go' yesterday but said his 'good friend' Mr Woolfe was now 'in 'extremely good form'
Despite Mr Woolfe and Mr Hookem's efforts to reconcile this morning, the clash has plunged Ukip into fresh turmoil 48 hours after leader Diane James resigned just 18 days into the job.
Some in Ukip went so far as to call on Mr Woolfe to be suspended from the party for allegedly starting the fight, which would rule him out of the leadership contest. Suzanne Evans, who was herself suspended earlier this year, has emerged as one of the favourites to win the leadership after yesterday's altercation, but has yet to declare.
And civil war in the party deepened this morning as Mr Farage lashed out at fellow Ukip MEP Neil Hamilton, who appeared to blame Mr Woolfe for the fight. In a statement this morning, Mr Farage targeted Mr Hamilton as he said claims made by Ukip representatives 'who were not even there at the time are extremely unhelpful'.
Speaking to reporters outside the hospital after visiting Mr Woolfe this morning, Mr Gill 'it was at one stage touch and go' yesterday but said his 'good friend' Mr Woolfe was now 'in 'extremely good form'.
The Wales MEP said: 'He tells me that his family are fully aware of the situation and where he is and his health and he can't wait to go and be with them.
'He's sick of croissants and he's looking forward to a good full English breakfast so as you can tell he is in good form.
'He has has been observed over the night, they have been waking him up just as a precaution to keep an eye on him. He was very tired and he was quite groggy but now he is definitely in a better state.
'The hospital have moved him to the neurological department as a precaution. They have asked to keep him in for a further 48 hours so that they can observe.'
Speaking to the Mail from his hospital bed last night, Mr Woolfe said Mr Hookem 'came at me and landed a blow'.
Mr Woolfe, who is favourite to be the party's next leader added: 'Mike was obviously very angry and lost his temper.'
At one stage it was feared the married father of one was fighting for his life. A tearful Nigel Farage was battling to stop the party breaking apart and UKIP's biggest donor threatened to quit.
Mr Woolfe claimed fellow MEP Mike Hookem, pictured, 'came at him and landed a blow' but Mr Hookem denies this and said Mr Woolfe 'tripped over'
Mr Hookem strenuously denied punching his colleague and his allies accused Mr Woolfe of tripping over.
Mr Woolfe had thrown his hat into the ring to succeed her – despite admitting he had considered defecting to the Tories. His confession infuriated colleagues and – at a 'clear-the-air' meeting of UKIP MEPs – tempers boiled over.
Tensions between Mr Woolfe and Mr Hookem, a former soldier, became particularly heated. Mr Woolfe allegedly challenged his fellow MEP to 'step outside' and settle their differences 'man on man'. Both took off their jackets.
Mr Woolfe, who turned 49 yesterday, told the Mail: 'I wasn't bruising for a scrap. I asked to deal with the matter outside of the room because it was flaring up in the meeting and upsetting everybody, and Mike clearly read that totally the wrong way. It was a completely unexpected incident.
'Mike came at me and landed a blow. The door frame took the biggest hit after I was shoved into it and I knew I'd taken a whack and was pretty shaken.'
Mr Woolfe, the MEP for North West England, said he banged his head as he fell. Mr Hookem said: 'I did not hit Steven and I did not see him hit his head.'
A friend close to Mr Hookem, 62, insisted it had been a verbal altercation: 'In the meeting, Mr Woolfe told Mike that they should 'go outside and deal with this man on man'.
'When they went out, Steven threw the first punch. He then tripped over his own feet and fell over. It was all pretty schoolyard. There is no indication at all that he hit his head.'
Suzanne Evans (pictured), who was herself suspended earlier this year, has emerged as one of the favourites to win the leadership after yesterday's altercation, but has yet to declare
Pictures emerged showing Mr Woolfe receiving attention from paramedics after his collapse at around 11.20am UK time, after what was described as a 'schoolyard' confrontation between him and Mr Hookem
Mr Woolfe (pictured left), a close ally of interim leader Nigel Farage (right) said he 'banged his head' as he fell down and later suffered two seizures
Ukip donor Arron Banks complained that the party was being run by 'circus clowns' following the incident
The two men returned to the meeting and retrieved their jackets, then went off to vote in the EU parliament's main chamber.
Two hours later, Mr Woolfe collapsed, unable to feel one side of his body. A photo showed him sprawled face-down on the parquet floor of a glass-panelled bridge walkway inside the EU building.
Paramedics rushed him to hospital with suspected bleeding on the brain. His wife Fiona was informed.
Mike Hookem, a former soldier, is pictured with a rifle
He later issued a statement saying the scan had showed no blood clot and he was feeling much better.
It said: 'The CT scan has shown that there is no blood clot in the brain.
'At the moment I am feeling brighter, happier, and smiling as ever.
'As a precaution, I am being kept in overnight awaiting secondary tests to make sure everything is fine.
'I would like everyone to know that the parliamentary staff, the Ukip MEPs with me and hospital staff have been brilliant. Their care has been exceptional.
'I am sitting up, and said to be looking well. The only consequence at the moment is a bit of numbness on the left hand side of my face.'
Mr Woolfe will not be released from hospital until Sunday morning at the earliest.
Last night he told the Mail that after the altercation with Mr Hookem he had gone for a cup of tea and then into the chamber to vote.
He said: 'I began feeling woozy and knew something wasn't right so I ran out to get help. I started shouting, 'Where is the medical centre?' and was pointed over a walkway bridge.
'That's the last I can remember. I don't remember anything else.
'Next thing I know, I woke up surrounded by Parliament staff, lying on the floor and they ran to get my colleague Nathan Gill, who then came with me to the hospital.
'The doctors told me I had had one seizure lasting three minutes and then another.'
MIKE HOOKEM: NINE YEAR ARMY VETERAN AND UKIP DEFENCE SPOKESMAN V THE VICTIM: THE SMOOTHIE FROM THE ROUGH SIDE OF MANCHESTER
Father-of-one Mr Woolfe, pictured, was encouraged to stand for the leadership by Mr Farage and Mr Banks
In a party frequently dogged by claims of racism, Steven Woolfe is an electoral godsend for Ukip.
He is seeking to become the first mixed-race leader of a major British political party. The MEP, 49, has black American, Jewish and Irish grandparents, and was bullied as a child because of the way he looked.
'My hair was different, my colour was different, I was often beaten, called names and that went on through my teenage years,' he has said.
His younger half-brother Nathan Woolfe, 28, took a different path – he is a footballer who has played for Bolton Wanderers, Stockport County and Wrexham.
One of four children, Mr Woolfe was brought up on the infamous Moss Side estate in Manchester by strict Roman Catholic parents who were diehard Labour. one of the brightest in his school – where Oasis singer Liam Gallagher was a pupil – he won a scholarship to St Bede's RC Independent College before gaining a degree in law at Aberystwyth University.
Woolfe's first run for public office came in 2012 in the election to find a police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester. He came last with only 9 per cent of the vote. In 2014, he was elected MEP for North West England but came a poor third in Stockport at the general election.
He was encouraged to stand for the leadership by Nigel Farage as well as Arron Banks, one of Ukip's biggest donors, and he said at the launch of his campaign in the summer: 'I am living proof of the so-called 'British dream' – the chance to succeed in all aspects of your life, no matter your postcode, your gender or the colour of your skin. I am standing to be the first mixed-race leader of a major political party in Britain.'
But his campaign foundered when he submitted his nomination papers 17 minutes after the deadline had expired because of a technical hitch with his email.
The party's National Executive Committee – dominated by the party's only MP Douglas Carswell and Neil Hamilton, the former Tory MP who is now Ukip leader in Wales – refused his request to stand.
They both hate Farage and Banks who are Woolfe's mentors. But then, as yesterday's events – culminating in the MEP's admission to hospital – show, Ukip is a party torn apart by hatred.
Mr Hookem was a lifelong Labour voter until switching to Ukip in 2008, where he has risen to defence spokesman
Mike Hookem is a plain-speaking Yorkshireman who learnt how to look after himself growing up in Hull.
Fiercely proud of his working class background, the MEP credits his rise up the career ladder to an early spell in the armed forces.
Even as a 62-year-old grandfather he still has a reputation as a man not to cross.
The son of a fish filleter, Mr Hookem left school at 15 and was stuck in dead-end jobs before joining the Royal Air Force at 17.
He said his four years in the RAF kickstarted his life and made him determined to be successful.
He then spent nine years in the Royal Engineers, believed to be as a reservist.
His last job before becoming an MEP – after picking up a series of skilled trades – was as a manager for a property firm in Hull, his home town.
A lifelong Labour voter, he switched to Ukip in 2008 and soon made an impression.
Within four years he was chairman of the party's regional committee.
He stood unsuccessfully as a candidate at the 2010 general election before being elected as an MEP in 2014.
With his military experience, Mr Hookem was appointed defence spokesman.
A former Ukip colleague in Yorkshire described him as surly – 'like a very arrogant used car salesman'.
He added: 'He is not to be messed with.
'He is always saying things like 'We can't be having any of that'.
'He is a very naughty boy, not that tall – but very stocky and looks a bit of a brawler.
'If he punched you, you would know about it.
'There was a joke going around that he was a good reason to leave UKIP and join the Tories because he was that aggressive.
'If you cross him you had better watch out.'
Announcing his own investigation into yesterday's incident, European Parliament president Mr Schulz said in a statement today: 'I would first of all like to wish a speedy recovery to Steven Woolfe, MEP, who is currently hospitalised. I also heartily thank the Parliament's staff and medical service which provided the first aid as well as the French medical services which have subsequently been caring for him.
'The reported facts are extremely serious. It goes without saying that disrespectful and violent behaviour does not have a place in the European Parliament. Moreover, indulging in this kind of conduct might result in a breach of Rule 11 of Parliament's Rules of Procedures and of Article 1 of the Code of Conduct for Members of the European Parliament.
'As a consequence, and regardless of the possible judicial consequences that this incident may also have, I have decided today to refer this very regrettable matter to the Advisory Committee established by the Code of Conduct, and asked for it to be dealt with as a matter of urgency next week.'
Mr Woolfe, who grew up in the infamous Moss Side area of Manchester and became a barrister, was disqualified from the last UKIP leadership contest because he handed in his nomination papers 17 minutes late.
He said last night: 'There was a lot of anger expressed towards me over what happened in the summer around the leadership contest, and the fallout on social media after I was barred from standing.
'Mike was obviously very angry over what happened and lost his temper.
'You don't get into politics if you aren't passionate, but I must admit this is a first! I'm all right now, thankfully. You can't knock a lad from Moss Side down for long.'
UKIP Welsh Assembly leader Neil Hamilton said: 'Steven picked a fight and came off worst.'
Nigel Farage, who is still leader of Ukip, gave a impromptu press conference outside the hospital announcing an inquiry and later likened the clash to 'something you see in third world parliaments'
A UKIP source said: 'Mike was furious that Steven had been talking to the Tories. How could he get up and say he wanted to be leader, when just hours earlier he was thinking about defecting?
'Mike told him that it was a betrayal, that he had breached their trust.'
A second source said: 'Woolfe says to Hookem, 'I've had enough of this. Let's settle this outside'.' A third said: 'He said, 'Come outside and sort this out like a man'.'
It was some time before Mr Hookem could be contacted for his version of events. He was said to have decided to drive back to London.
French police said the incident had not been reported to them and they had no plans to investigate.
Millionaire backer Aaron Banks demanded the suspension of the party's ruling national executive committee.
He accused the party's 'Tory troublemakers and fifth columnists' of plotting against Mr Woolfe.
Mr Banks, who donated £1million to Ukip before the general election, warned critics of Mr Farage not to prevent Mr Woolfe - widely seen as the leader's preferred successor - from standing again.
He singled out the party's only MP Douglas Carswell and the leader in the Welsh Assembly Neil Hamilton - both ex-Conservative MPs.
'The Tory troublemakers and fifth columnists represent a small minority in our party, yet they use any opportunity they can to undermine those working tirelessly to hold the Government's feet to the flames. This ends today,' he said.
'If Neil Hamilton and Douglas Carswell remain in the party, and the NEC decide that Steven Woolfe cannot run for leader, I will be leaving Ukip.'
Earlier Mr Banks launched an outspoken attack on the 'circus clowns' running the party.
He lashed out at the NEC, which was heavily criticised for refusing to accept Mr Woolfe's candidacy for the leadership during the last contest because the papers were filed a few minutes late.
'This body is populated by a motley collection of amateurs; leftovers from a bygone age, when Ukip was a ragtag band of volunteers on the fringes of British politics.
'Watching them try to run the modern political movement that (Nigel) Farage built is like watching a team of circus clowns trying to carry out a pit stop at the Silverstone Grand Prix,' he wrote in the Guardian.
'If James hadn't put her name forward at the last minute, we would have had nothing but a rabble of no-name, no-talent nobodies to choose from. These people would be out of their depth in a paddling pool, and couldn't be more unfit to run a modern political party.'
The European Parliament chamber in Strasbourg. Mr Woolfe is said to have collapsed on a walkway in the building
Meanwhile, Mr Farage likened yesterday's conduct to what 'you see in third world parliaments' and said: 'He did lose consciousness for a bit, so I think things were pretty bad. A few of us thought, for a moment, that he wouldn't make it.
'It is two grown men getting involved in an altercation it is not very seemly behaviour. It should not have happened. I was in the room but what happened was slightly outside of it so I did not see it.'
Neil Hamilton, Ukip's leader in the Welsh Assembly, added: 'It's most unfortunate but passions obviously run high.'
Mr Hamilton admitted the incident was not a great advert for the party, but added: 'Let's not generalise it - it's a dispute between one or two individuals. It's not good that they are public representatives of the party in the European Parliament and that's highly regrettable.'
Raheem Kassam, a former aide to Mr Farage, complained that the party is beset by back-stabbing and duplicity.
'I, like ordinary Ukip members, am so tired of the games that are being played at the top of this party. There is so much corruption. There is so much duplicity. There are so many people shaking hands with one another and then knifing them in private. It has to stop,' he said.
Mr Woolfe has admitted he had flirted with defecting to the Tories after being barred from the last leadership race by the party's NEC.
The MEP said he had been 'enthused' by Theresa May's start to her premiership but in the end concluded that only Ukip could be relied upon to deliver on Brexit.
'Her support of new grammar schools, her words on social mobility and the growing evidence that she is committed to a clean Brexit prompted me, as it did many of my friends and colleagues, to wonder whether our future was within her new Conservative Party,' he said.
'However, having watched the Prime Minister's speech on Sunday, I came to the conclusion that only a strong Ukip can guarantee Brexit is delivered in full and only our party can stand up for the communities of the Midlands and the North.'
Ukip's NEC will now meet on October 17 to agree a timetable for an election to find a permanent replacement for Ms James.
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