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Minister defends Tory chief whip over decision not to suspend MP accused of rape amid police probe

(PA images)

3 min read

People will “begin to understand” why chief whip Mark Spencer has not suspended a Conservative MP accused of rape as the police investigation continues, a minister has said.

Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi defended the Conservative Party’s handling of the situation after it was confirmed that the man in his 50s will retain the whip during the police probe.

The unnamed MP and ex-minister was detained by police on Saturday and later released on bail until a date in mid-August.

But Labour’s shadow domestic violence minister Jess Phillips has said she found it “shocking” that he would not be suspended during the investigation.

“In any organisation, especially one like Members of Parliament, who every day work with vulnerable people, young activists, members of staff... In any other organisation were this investigation to be going on, this police investigation, somebody would be suspended while the investigation was taking place," she told Times Radio.

According to The Telegraph, the complainant in the case, a woman in her 20s who worked as a parliamentary aide, first raised the matter with the Conservative chief whip four months ago. Mr Spencer has disputed elements of her account.

The alleged victim meanwhile told The Times she was “devastated” that the MP had not been suspended.

And London’s Victims Commissioner, Claire Waxman, accused Boris Johnson of breaking his own promise to treat abuse against women “seriously”.

She pointed out that the Prime Minister had told MPs last year women “must have the confidence that crimes, domestic violence and sexual abuse, are treated seriously by our law enforcement system”.

Bur Ms Waxman warned that “not suspending an MP accused of rape while investigations are ongoing conveys a different message”.

Responding to the row on Monday morning, Mr Zahawi told Sky News: “These are very serious allegations. There's a police investigation. And I don't know the details of that investigation.

“There's a victim here as well. I think it's a right for us to wait until the police can do their investigation, and then you'll be hearing from the chief whip as to what action will be taken.”

He added: “Let's have that investigation be concluded, and then [it’s] up to the chief whip to make sure that the right action is taken, and you'll be hearing from the chief whip on that action.”

Asked whether the chief whip had been told about the allegations, Mr Zahawi said he wanted to avoid entering “the realms of speculation.

But he said: “I absolutely believe that sometimes when the details are then released then people will begin to understand why you know the chief whip, or Conservative Party has behaved and acted in a particular way. 

“I think it's only right that we allow the police to finish that investigation.“

Fellow Conservative MP Bim Afolami told the BBC’s Westminster Hour on Sunday night that the Conservative Party would “look at it again” if the unnamed MP was charged with an offence.

“But in terms of the party’s handling of this so far, the Chief Whip and the Leader of the House are pretty sensible guys, who would have taken all appropriate advice and made the right judgements and I’ve got complete confidence in them,” he said.

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