UK

Dowden says Tories have zero tolerance of sexual misconduct amid cover-up claim

Palace of Westminster, London (David Mirzoeff/PA)
Palace of Westminster, London (David Mirzoeff/PA) Palace of Westminster, London (David Mirzoeff/PA)

The Deputy Prime Minister said he does not recognise reported claims that the Conservative Party did not properly deal with allegations of rape against one of its MPs.

Oliver Dowden told Times Radio it “wasn’t something that crossed my desk” when he served as chairman of the Tory Party during Boris Johnson’s premiership.

He said the Tories and the UK Government had “zero tolerance” for sexual misconduct.

It comes after it was reported that Sir Jake Berry, another former Conservative Party chairman, wrote to police about concerns allegations of rape made against an MP were not handled properly, allowing them to “continue to offend”.

Mr Dowden told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg that the allegations were “very serious” and that the party “takes them exceptionally seriously”.

But the Cabinet minister told the programme he did not “recognise in any form the idea that we covered up”.

Northern Research Group conference
Northern Research Group conference Sir Jake Berry alerted police to alleged claims of rape against a Tory MP (Danny Lawson/PA)

A letter obtained by the Mail On Sunday suggests that an unnamed MP had assaulted as many as five people with little to no consequence, with some allegations including several claims of rape.

Sir Jake told police in the letter that he found out about the alleged assaults when he discovered the Tories had covered the cost of treatment for one of the supposed victims at a private hospital.

The MP has not been named but, as per the letter, was able to continue in their role in Parliament after the rapes and assaults occurred.

Mr Dowden told broadcasters on Sunday he did not know “who the individual concerned is”.

Sir Jake was party chairman during Liz Truss’s brief tenure as leader last year.

It is reported Sir Jake, whose office has been contacted by PA news agency for comment, wrote the letter shortly after leaving the chairman’s job in October 2022.

The Mail On Sunday published extracts from the letter, which Sir Jake and former chief whip Wendy Morton reportedly co-signed.

It was reportedly sent to police stating that the pair became aware of a series of allegations against an MP, referred to as X, when they took up their new roles within the party.

An excerpt from the letter reads: “There may have been five victims of X — who have been subject to a range of offences including multiple rapes.”

The letter adds that the “failure of others to act has enabled X to continue to offend”, and the claims of rape and assault had been going on for more than two years.

Mr Dowden, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s deputy, was Tory chairman from September 2021 to June last year, resigning after by-election defeats in Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield.

During an interview with Times Radio, Mr Dowden said he had not sanctioned payments to victims while serving as chairman but that he could not rule out that it might have happened.

Oliver Dowden
Oliver Dowden Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said he did not know who the alleged MP was referred to in Sir Jake Berry’s letter (Victoria Jones/PA)

“What I can say certainly is it was not the case that I, as chairman of the Conservative Party, signed off any payments like this or indeed this discussion is some sort of mass cover up,” he told the radio station.

“It wasn’t something that crossed my desk as chairman of the Conservative Party.

“It may be the case.

“I’m not denying that it could be the case that those payments were made, but it is not something that I authorised or part of as chairman of the Conservative Party.”

He said that when he was chairman he was “always totally clear” that allegations “should be taken to the police”.

“And secondly, I was totally clear, both as a party and as a Government, that we have zero tolerance whatsoever for this kind of conduct — full stop,” he added.

Veteran Conservative MP and former Brexit secretary David Davis said any cover up of rape claims would be a “criminal offence in its own right” and would be a “matter for the police”.

The Conservative Party said it would not be commenting.