In Depth

Alun Cairns resigns in rape trial ‘sabotage’ row

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns quits after of ‘brazenly lying’ about aide’s testimony to court

A member of Boris Johnson’s cabinet has resigned amid accusations he lied about his knowledge of an aide’s “sabotage” of a rape trial.

Former aide and Tory Welsh Assembly candidate Ross England made claims about the unnamed woman’s sexual history during the April 2018 trial, which subsequently collapsed.

England’s boss, Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns, last week insisted he had not known about the case before details of the trial had emerged days earlier when reporting restrictions were lifted.

But the BBC was shown an email that Cairns received in August last year mentioning the case.

In his resignation letter to Boris Johnson, Cairns wrote: “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 cooperate 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 wrongdoing.”

Johnson had been facing calls to sack Cairns and remove him as a Tory candidate in the upcoming December election. Replying to Cairns’ letter, the PM said he was “extremely grateful for all the work you have done in the role as secretary of state since March 2016.

“Given your long service as secretary of state, you can be proud of your record of delivery for the people of Wales.”

What happened at the trial?

England was called to give evidence to the court, where he made claims about the victim’s sexual history that caused the trial to collapse.

Asked if he had worked with the victim, a former Tory staffer, England claimed that he’d had a casual sexual relationship with her.

Accusing him this week of making an “absolutely deliberate attempt to sabotage the trial”, the victim said: “Nobody asked him if we were in a sexual relationship or not. For him to just blurt that out proves to me that it was a formulated plan that he and whoever else conjured to try and derail the trial.”

Despite the victim denying a casual sexual relationship with England, and the judge saying it was not valid evidence, the trial had to be abandoned.

Judge Stephen Hopkins QC told England: “You have managed, single-handedly, and I have no doubt it was deliberate on your part, to sabotage this trial.

“Mr England, as far as I am concerned, this matter so far as you are concerned isn’t ended. I shall be writing personal letters to people who are politically close to you and I hope they take appropriate action. Get out of my court.”

The defendant, James Hackett, was convicted following a retrial.

When did Cairns find out?

After the story broke last week, the Welsh secretary claimed that he only became aware of the events of the trial “some considerable time afterwards and had no knowledge of the role of Ross England”.

But the email seen by the BBC, which was sent to Cairns by his special adviser Geraint Evans, reportedly said: “I have spoken to Ross and he is confident no action will be taken by the court.”

Eight months after the email was sent, England was selected as the Welsh Conservatives’ candidate for the Vale of Glamorgan for the 2021 Welsh assembly election.

At the time of his selection to stand, Cairns endorsed England as a “friend and colleague” with whom “it will be a pleasure to campaign”.

And the reaction to the revelations?

Speaking before the resignation, the rape victim said: “If he’d come out and condemned Ross [England] in the first instance, he wouldn’t be in this position.

“I would like an apology from the party and Alun Cairns for selecting him in the first place. I can’t believe that not one senior Welsh Conservative has said that what he did was wrong.”

Cairns resignation letter pic.twitter.com/u5dsliGZvs

— Nick Eardley (@nickeardleybbc) November 6, 2019

Aisha Ali-Khan, co-organiser of the London Women’s March, said Cairns’ resignation was “absolutely the right thing to do”.

Alun Cairns knew Ross England deliberately sabotaged rape trial by making false allegations about victim’s sexual history, causing it to collapse & allow the accused, his friend, to walk free.

To later endorse such a piece of shit is beyond comprehension,” Ali-Khan tweeted.

Kevin Schofield, editor of the PoliticsHome site, tweeted: “Alun Cairns resigns as Welsh Secretary over rape trial row. The Tory election campaign so far is looking less like a car crash and more like a motorway pile-up.”

That view was echoed by ITV’s political correspondent Paul Brand, who wrote: “Can anyone remember another election campaign with a resignation on day one?!”

Ahead of Cairns’ resignation, a Welsh Conservatives source told the BBC: “I can’t really see how he can possibly carry on - the toxic nature of these revelations could bring down the whole Conservative campaign in Wales.”

Christina Rees, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for Wales, had also called for Cairns to resign, tweeting: “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.

“The cover-up is unforgivable. Alun Cairns should go, as secretary of state and as a candidate.”

Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts said: “At worst, Mr Cairns is complicit in the attempted cover up of his former staff member’s actions which collapsed a rape trial.

“At best, he has displayed gross incompetence in judgement.”

England has been suspended from the Conservative Party.

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