Neil Hamilton ousted as UKIP group leader

UKIP's Assembly group has removed Neil Hamilton as their leader, almost exactly two years after he replaced Nathan Gill in a similar fashion. Both he and his staff had been unavailable for comment all day, following reports of a stormy group meeting on Thursday night.

As speculation mounted, a statement was expected by lunchtime but there was no announcement and one of his supporters said that the woman expected to replace him -Caroline Jones- had "bottled it".

But a late afternoon announcement from the UKIP group confirmed that the coup had finally taken place and that Caroline Jones had taken over following "a democratic vote" by the five UKIP AMs. She issued a brief statement:

Caroline Jones speaking in the Senedd. Behind her is Gareth Bennett, who did not support her becoming leader. Credit: Senedd TV

It's believed that Neil Hamilton retained the support of the South Wales Central AM Gareth Bennett but that Caroline Jones was backed by David Rowlands and Michelle Brown. It remains to be seen if Nathan Gill's successor as a North Wales AM, Mandy Jones, will be readmitted to the UKIP group. She was expelled almost immediately after taking up her seat when she decided to retain her predecessor's staff.

Neil Hamilton became the UKIP AM for Mid & West Wales despite the opposition to his candidature from the party's then leader, Nigel Farage. He was seen as a controversial figure as a result of his sacking as Tory minister at Westminster in the 1990s. He subsequently lost his seat as MP for Tatton in Cheshire when both Labour and the Liberal Democrats withdrew their candidates in favour of an independent who defeated him.

His political comeback seemed complete when the UKIP Group removed Nigel Farage's choice of Welsh Leader, Nathan Gill andinstalled Mr Hamilton as the leader of the then seven AMs. (Another former Conservative MP, Mark Reckless, subsequently defected to the Tory Group).

Always a controversial figure, Neil Hamilton speaking in the Senedd as Presiding Officer Elin Jones looks on. Credit: Senedd TV

Neil Hamilton soon established himself as an effective performer in the Senedd, uninhibited by any sense of political correctness. He first attracted controversy within weeks of his election, when he claimed that Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru support for Carwyn Jones' re-election as First Minister made Kirsty Williams and Leanne Wood "political concubines".

Caroline Jones has had a lower political profile since UKIP entered the Assembly two years ago. She is also a former Conservative and was the Tory candidate for South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner in 2012.