Alun Cairns quits as Welsh Secretary amid outcry over 'sabotaged' rape trial
Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns has resigned from the Cabinet as a probe was launched into claims he knew a Conservative candidate had "sabotaged" a rape trial.
In a further blow to the Tories on the day Boris Johnson prepared to launch the party's general election campaign, he quit and vowed to co-operate "in full" with an investigation into the claims.
Ross England, a former aide to Mr Cairns, made allegations about the victim's sexual history in an April 2018 rape trial at Cardiff Crown Court, leading to its collapse.
Mr Cairns went on to endorse Mr England's candidacy as a Welsh Assembly member for the Vale of Glamorgan and the party "categorically" denied he was aware that Mr England's actions had undermined the court case.
But the pressure on Mr Cairns grew after BBC Wales obtained a leaked email to Mr Cairns from his special adviser Geraint Evans dating back to August last year, which said: "I have spoken to Ross and he is confident no action will be taken by the court."
In a letter to the Prime Minister confirming his decision to quit, Mr Cairns said: "You will be aware of allegations relating to the actions of a party employee and candidate for the Welsh Assembly elections in the Vale of Glamorgan.
"This is a very sensitive matter, and in light of continued speculation, I write to tender my resignation as Secretary of State for Wales.
"I will co-operate in full with the investigation under the Ministerial Code which will now take place and I am confident I will be cleared of any breach or wrong doing."
The outgoing Secretary of State told Mr Johnson it had been "an honour" to serve in the Government and said he would "continue to work to support your vision and ambitions for the country".
In his reply - published just minutes before he was due to give an address outside Number 10 - Mr Johnson said: "Thank you for your letter resigning as Secretary of State of Wales. I am pleased to hear that you will co-operate fully with the cabinet Office during this process."
He added: "I am extremely grateful for all the work you have done in the role as Secretary of State since March 2016."
And the Prime Minister praised Mr Cairns' "unstinting record of service to the Party in Wales with over a decade as Assembly Member of South Wales West where you were a vocal critic of the Welsh Labour government".
The blow comes on the day the Conservatives were forced to defend an edited video of Labour's Sir Keir Starmer, and amid ongoing criticism of comments about the Grenfell Tower fire by Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Mr Cairns' position came under huge pressure on Wednesday morning after the victim at the hear of the collapsed rape trial said he should "absolutely" step down.
"If he'd condemned [Mr England] in the first instance, he wouldn't be in this position," she told the BBC.
"I would like an apology from the party and Alun Cairns for selecting him."
The claims relate to the rape trial of James Hackett in April 2018. Mr Hackett was found guilty at a retrial and sentenced to five years in jail.
Both Labour and Plaid Cymru had also urged the Cabinet minister to consider his position.
Shadow Welsh Secretary Christina Rees said: "There are no two ways about this: Alun Cairns has been caught brazenly lying about how much he knew of Ross England’s appalling behaviour at a rape trial."
Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts, said: "I hope that Alun Cairns’ resignation as Secretary of State proves to be some solace to the woman at the centre of this case, who still has received no apology from the Conservative party.
"Mr Cairns’ conduct proved unquestionably that he is not fit to hold ministerial office. You simply cannot be complicit in the attempted cover up of sabotaging a rape trial and hope to get away with it.
"Such conduct is neither befitting of a government minister, nor of a member of parliament. Mr Cairns should do the honourable thing and withdraw from the election – and if he doesn’t, the Conservative Party should insist he withdraws."