A MAJOR Conservative Party donor said he is “deeply sorry” after reportedly saying former Labour MP Diane Abbott made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.

Frank Hester, chief executive of The Phoenix Partnership (TPP), has been accused of "utterly revolting" and "racist" language.

He has admitted making “rude” comments, which were first reported by The Guardian, but said they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have both called on the Tories to return the money Hester has donated to the party, which totalled £10 million last year, according to Electoral Commission records.

Hester individually donated £5m to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s party in May and gave another £5m via his healthcare software firm in November.

The National: Rishi Sunak

The Guardian reported that Hester’s remarks about Abbott were made in 2019, meaning that they likely occurred when she was shadow home secretary under former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The newspaper reported that, during a meeting at his Leeds company headquarters, Hester, having previously criticised an executive at another organisation, went on to discuss Abbott, the first black woman elected to Parliament.

He reportedly said: “It’s like trying not to be racist but you see Diane Abbott on the TV, and you’re just like … you just want to hate all black women because she’s there. And I don’t hate all black women at all, but I think she should be shot.

“[The executive] and Diane Abbott need to be shot.”

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In a statement released via his firm and on social media, Hester was said to have rung Abbott "twice today to try to apologise directly for the hurt he has caused her".

The statement said: “Frank Hester accepts that he was rude about Diane Abbot [sic] in a private meeting several years ago but his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin.

“The Guardian is right when it quotes Frank saying he abhors racism, not least because he experienced it as the child of Irish immigrants in the 1970s.

“He rang Diane Abbott twice today to try to apologise directly for the hurt he has caused her, and is deeply sorry for his remarks.

“He wishes to make it clear that he regards racism as a poison which has no place in public life.”

Tory opponents have seized on the remarks and urged the governing party to give back the cash Hester and his company have donated.

Anneliese Dodds, the Labour Party chair, said: “These comments are reprehensible.

“Frank Hester is the Conservative Party’s biggest ever donor, as well as a personal donor to the Prime Minister, it is therefore vital that Rishi Sunak and the Tories return his donations, in full without delay.

“Rishi Sunak has claimed that ‘words matter’, and he must know that holding on to that money would suggest the Conservatives condone these disturbing comments. Sunak must return every penny.”

The Lib Dems made the same call, with Wendy Chamberlain, the party’s chief whip, also urging Sunak to rule out “any future peerage” for Hester.

Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, went further with his criticisms during remarks in the Commons, saying Hester had used “utterly revolting, racist and inciteful language”.

Addressing MPs, Streeting called on the Prime Minister to also apologise to Abbott.

A Conservative spokesperson said: “Mr Hester has made clear that while he was rude, his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor the colour of her skin.

“He has since apologised.”

James Daly, deputy chairman of the Tory Party, told Times Radio the remarks were “not words I would have used” and that he was “pleased” Hester had apologised.

Downing Street directed questions about Hester’s comments to the Conservative Party.

Abbott (below), first elected as MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in 1987, has sat as an independent since April after the Labour whip was withdrawn following comments she made in The Observer suggesting Jewish, Irish and Traveller people are not subject to racism “all their lives”.

The National: Diane Abbott

She is awaiting the outcome of an independent complaints process set-up by Labour to investigate her remarks.

The Guardian reported that TPP has been paid more than £400 million by the NHS and other Government bodies since 2016, having been given responsibility to look after 60 million UK medical records.

According to the TPP website, Hester founded the company in 1997 as he worked on integrated care models.

TPP describes the firm as providing “leading software that is transforming healthcare worldwide”.

In 2015, the businessman was made a member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to healthcare.

Hester has been invited on several government trade missions in the past, including visiting India with then-prime minister David Cameron in 2013.

He appeared at number 321 on the 2023 Sunday Times Rich List, with the newspaper estimating his wealth at £415m.

The Rich List said Hester spotted an opportunity to build IT software for the NHS “when his GP wife grumbled about her computers at work”.