May’s aides ‘sat on’ claims of Tory sleaze

Min­is­ter and chief of staff face pres­sure over al­le­ga­tion that com­plaints were not heeded

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front page - By Ed­ward Mal­nick WHITE­HALL EDITOR and Pa­trick Sawer

THERESA MAY was un­der pres­sure last night to dis­close what two of her clos­est al­lies knew about al­le­ga­tions made against se­nior Con­ser­va­tives, amid claims they “sat on” ac­cu­sa­tions about MPs’ con­duct.

The Sun­day Tele­graph un­der­stands that con­cerns about the be­hav­iour of Sir Michael Fal­lon, the for­mer de­fence sec­re­tary, were raised re­peat­edly in the whips’ of­fice when Gavin Bar­well, who is now the Prime Min­is­ter’s chief of staff, was “num­ber three” there.

Sep­a­rately, a se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tion about the Tory MP Char­lie El­ph­icke, then a whip him­self, was made to the of­fice in the same pe­riod, be­fore Gavin Wil­liamson – whom the Prime Min­is­ter ap­pointed on Thurs­day as Sir Michael’s suc­ces­sor – be­came chief whip.

In tak­ing charge of the whips’ of­fice in July last year, Mr Wil­liamson would have been briefed on any ma­jor con­cerns about Tory MPs, in­sid­ers said.

The woman who com­plained about Mr El­ph­icke last year is un­der­stood to have asked the party not to call in the po­lice. How­ever, Ju­lian Smith, the new Chief Whip, re­ferred Mr El­ph­icke to po­lice on Fri­day night and sus­pended him fol­low­ing a fresh al­le­ga­tion.

Last night, one se­nior Con­ser­va­tive said the for­mer whips would face “real dif­fi­cul­ties if it emerged that there were a string of peo­ple rais­ing con­cerns and they were not tak­ing it for­ward”. An­other source said it ap­peared the whips might have “sat on” al­le­ga­tions.

Anna Soubry, the for­mer de­fence min­is­ter, said: “It’s dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that the whips’ of­fice didn’t know much of the de­tail of these var­i­ous al­le­ga­tions and they prob­a­bly know more. I am as­ton­ished that Gavin Wil­liamson was ap­pointed as De­fence Sec­re­tary.” In other de­vel­op­ments yes­ter­day: Stephen Crabb, the for­mer min­is­ter who sent a young woman sex­u­ally ex­plicit mes­sages after re­ject­ing her job ap­pli­ca­tion, be­came the first Tory MP to be re­ferred for in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­der the party’s new code of con­duct;

A Cabi­net source hit out at cri­ticism of An­drea Lead­som, the Leader of the Com­mons, after she faced vit­riol for rais­ing com­plaints with the Prime Min­is­ter about Sir Michael’s be­hav­iour;

Min­is­ters ac­cused John Ber­cow, the Com­mons Speaker, of “shirk­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity” by claim­ing that it was for po­lit­i­cal par­ties to adopt ef­fec­tive “griev­ance schemes” to han­dle com­plaints;

Euro­pean diplo­mats said the events of the past week were a fur­ther sign of “weak­ness” as Brexit talks con­tinue.

Sir Michael re­signed on Wed­nes­day after Mrs Lead­som raised com­plaints

about his be­hav­iour with No10. Last night it also emerged that hours be­fore Sir Michael’s res­ig­na­tion, No 10 had been ap­proached with an al­le­ga­tion that he lunged at a fe­male jour­nal­ist after a lunch in 2003 and tried to kiss her.

It is un­der­stood that in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour by Sir Michael was raised sev­eral times to whips, in­clud­ing dur­ing Mr Bar­well’s time as “num­ber three” in the of­fice be­tween 2015 and 2016.

Mr El­ph­icke was re­ported to the whips be­fore last year’s lead­er­ship elec­tion by a woman who asked for the mat­ter not to be passed to the po­lice. Mr El­ph­icke did not re­main a whip after Mrs May was elected leader.

On Fri­day night, the MP was sus­pended fol­low­ing a fur­ther al­le­ga­tion by a sep­a­rate in­di­vid­ual. In a state­ment re­leased shortly after 9pm on Fri­day, Mr Smith, who be­came Chief Whip on Thurs­day, said: “I have sus­pended the party whip from Char­lie El­ph­icke fol­low­ing se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions that have been re­ferred to the po­lice.” A Metropoli­tan Po­lice spokesman said the party had passed on an al­le­ga­tion about a “se­ri­ous mat­ter”, which was be­ing as­sessed. “No ar­rests have been made.”

This week­end back­benchers warned against as­sum­ing those fac­ing al­le­ga­tions were guilty. But sev­eral raised ques­tions about whether claims were prop­erly in­ves­ti­gated and if the whips con­sid­ered their “duty of care” to oth­ers in the party and Par­lia­ment.

On Fri­day night, Mr El­ph­icke said: “The party tipped off the press be­fore telling me of my sus­pen­sion. I am not aware of what the al­leged claims are and deny any wrong­do­ing.”

Scot­land’s chil­dren’s min­is­ter, the SNP’s Mark McDon­ald, has quit after com­plaints of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour.

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