David Ruffley to stand down at the next election after assault on ex-girlfriend
MP has been under pressure to resign and will face constituents at local party meeting on Thursday to discuss his future.
Conservative MP David Ruffley said he would stand down at the next general election ahead of a critical constituency meeting that had been due to discuss his police caution for assaulting his ex-girlfriend.
The MP had come under increasing pressure to resign over the incident, which happened in March, and was expected to face a difficult meeting of his constituency party in Bury St Edmunds on Thursday.
Ruffley last week broke his silence on the matter to say that he deeply regretted the incident, that his former partner had accepted the apology, and he would never condone domestic violence.
The MP was also facing an investigation into the incident by Michael Gove, the chief whip, who last night praised his “outstanding” contribution to parliament.
More than 35,000 people had signed a petition on Change.org calling on Ruffley to go vacate his seat. Sandra Horley, chief executive of domestic violence charity Refuge, said she was “concerned that David Ruffley has so far been allowed to retain his position”.
Suffolk Conservatives had been split over whether David Ruffley should stand down as an MP over his police caution for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, with his local association chairman saying he did not believe it “in any way qualifies as domestic abuse”.
In an email to several Tory members, Andrew Speed, the chairman of the Bury St Edmunds Conservative Association, said he did not believe there was any link between what happened and domestic violence. Those who thought so were “the opposition and minority feminist groups”, he wrote.
The email added: “Can I just go on record as stating that we don’t condone domestic violence. As importantly, based on the info I have to hand I do not believe David’s incident qualifies in any way as domestic abuse. Only two people actually know of course what happened, which is why our statement released early July, has been appropriate to date. I understand why the opposition and minority feminist groups might try and make the link to DV but surprised others have.
“The past few weeks have of course been utterly frustrating and difficult, but we expect statements to be issued this week, and will resolve the situation at the exec meeting next week.”
His response was challenged by Jenny Antill, a Conservative councillor who lives in the nearby constituency of South Suffolk and is chairman of the Suffolk Domestic Abuse Partnership.
She wrote back to Speed: “Do you agree that David Ruffley accepted a police caution for common assault on his then partner at his London flat earlier this year? If so, in what way does this not constitute domestic abuse?
“I do not understand your position and can only repeat the recommendation of the Suffolk Domestic Abuse Partnership that your association reconsider his reselection in the light of the known facts.”
Speed subsequently told the East Anglian Daily Times: “I reiterate that I do not in any way condone domestic violence. Under CPS guidelines a caution for common assault may be considered ‘where there is no injury or injuries which are not serious.'”
Ruffley was also supported by a member of the Bury St Edmunds Conservative Association on the BBC’s Jeremy Vine show on Monday.
Asked how the constituency could support a candidate who had beaten up his girlfriend, Bernard Sergeant said: “Why not? There are very few people in life who haven’t done something they subsequently regret. They shouldn’t vilify the man. If he is de-frocked, for want of a better word, his career will be over and he’ll be out of a job. Why should they have the right to do that?”
He also said: “We do have to have these odd female organisations that look for equality and I think they’ve got it these days. What I would say is David Ruffley has been our MP for 17 years. He’s done an excellent job. He’s obviously well-liked …
“All these things happen behind closed doors. The police were called, and he was given a caution. Neither the police, nor the offended party, actually called for charges. Subsequently, as far as I was concerned, the matter was closed.
“It was a private matter, and as in most domestic issues, I suggest it was six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. Nobody really knows what went on.”
The Conservative party initially tried to draw a line under the matter, saying it had been dealt with by the police. However, Michael Gove, the chief whip, is now investigating after Frances Ward, the dean of St Edmundsbury cathedral, wrote to the party calling for him to go. She described how Ruffley’s former partner had been “wincing in obvious pain” after the incident.
Ward, a friend of Ruffley’s former partner, also told of how frightened the women had been of his “rage and violent behaviour”.
- The Guardian,