A cabinet minister lobbied the prime minister to help Charlie Elphicke after the Conservative MP was charged with sexual assault, the Guardian has been told.
Questions resurfaced about the Tory party’s handling of the case last week after Elphicke was convicted of three counts of sexual assault against two women in 2007 and 2016. He is due to be sentenced later this year and could face a jail term.
Elphicke, who represented Dover from 2010 until last year, is understood to have asked cabinet ministers to help him after the allegations were referred to the police in 2017.
In November 2019, having been charged in July that year following 20 months of police investigation, he succeeded in getting a member of Boris Johnson’s cabinet to raise his case with the prime minister, according to a source.
“Charlie went around saying that he had no idea why he was being investigated, so in a way there was a legitimate case for why people felt that he was being unfairly treated,” said the source, who has knowledge of discussions among ministers at the time.
“From that point of view there was a certain amount of confusion and good people thought he was being unfairly treated. He was saying he had no idea, which can’t have been the case.”
The source added: “He successfully lobbied one of Boris [Johnson’s] … cabinet ministers, who raised it and said: ‘We should do something, prime minister, to help Charlie.’”
While Johnson was said to have been “initially sympathetic”, another member of the cabinet strongly warned him against intervening and he did not do so, it is understood.
The Cabinet Office and No 10 have been contacted to ask for their response and whether they can confirm that Elphicke’s case was raised with Johnson by one of his ministers.
The revelation raises further questions about the manner in which senior Conservatives handled Elphicke’s case when he was under criminal investigation, and the extent to which MPs continued to support him.
Elphicke lost the Tory whip in 2017 when the sexual assault allegations were referred to the police, but was reinstated in December 2018 before a vote of confidence in the then prime minister, Theresa May.
The Guardian has also been told of deep unease among some Conservative MPs, particularly women, at the reaction from male Tory MPs when Elphicke and Andrew Griffiths, a colleague who had the party whip removed after being accused of sexually inappropriate conduct, were welcomed back into the fold.
“There was a lot of thumping of tables with fists and I remember just looking across at another woman with a frozen look,” said one Conservative who was in attendance at a meeting of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory MPs in December 2018.
Ed Davey, the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “People will be deeply disturbed to hear that a cabinet minister thought it acceptable to appeal directly to the prime minister to pull strings for a Tory MP facing serious criminal charges.”
There was also reaction from the Women’s Equality party (WEP), which said the minister who lobbied on Elphicke’s behalf should be sacked for breaches of the ministerial code. “Just as with Epstein, this shows how powerful men protect one another rather than protecting the victims of these terrible crimes,” said a spokesperson.
Jolyon Maugham, the barrister and director of the Good Law Project campaign group, said: “These interventions in the criminal justice system – highly inappropriate interventions to protect their own from criminal sanction – are happening more and more.”
The Crown Prosecution Service said after the verdict in Elphicke’s case at Southwark crown court on Thursday that Elphicke “had abused his power and influence over these women to make unwanted and forceful sexual advances towards them”.
The father of two was released on bail but was warned by the judge, Mrs Justice Whipple, that he faced the “very real possibility” of prison.
Elphicke’s wife, Natalie, who became the MP for Dover after her husband did not stand for the seat in last year’s general election, announced shortly after the verdict that their marriage of 25 years was over.
Giving evidence at his trial last Monday, her husband admitted not telling police the truth when they asked him about one of the women he was accused of sexually assaulting, saying he feared it would destroy his marriage.
Both of the women who accused Elphicke gave evidence during the trial. One of them, speaking via video link, said she feared for her safety and locked herself in a room when Elphicke ran after her and tried to smack her bottom following the assault.
She said he chased her down the stairs at his London home chanting “I’m a naughty Tory”.