UK Politics

Tory MP David Ruffley speaks of assault 'regret'

David Ruffley, Bury St Edmunds MP
Image caption David Ruffley has been the Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds since 1997

Conservative MP David Ruffley has said he "deeply regrets" actions that led to a police caution for common assault on his ex-partner earlier this year.

Speaking about the incident in London for the first time through his lawyers, the MP for Bury St Edmunds admitted "inappropriate action".

The Conservative Party is now privately discussing the future of the MP.

And the dean of his local cathedral has written to Mr Ruffley saying his position in parliament is "untenable".

It is now more than four months since Conservative MP Mr Ruffley - a former shadow policing minister - was arrested at his flat in Pimlico in central London.

He was given a caution and a Conservative Party spokesman said the matter was dealt with by police.

'Deeply personal'

Now, 18 weeks later, and for the first time, he has told me, through a statement from his lawyers, about the incident.

"In March this year, an incident occurred between me and my former partner, resulting in inappropriate action on my part, which I deeply regret, in respect of which I accepted a police caution for common assault."

Image caption Dean of St Edmundsbury the Very Revd Dr Frances Ward sent a copy of her letter to Chief Whip Michael Gove

He adds: "Some time later, I telephoned my former partner to apologise.

"I am pleased to be able to say that she has accepted my apology. I have refrained from making any public statement on this matter as it is a deeply personal matter.

"It is my understanding that my former partner wishes the incident to remain private."

His statement concludes: "I wish to stress that I would never condone domestic violence under any circumstances."

Last Friday, the Dean of Saint Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds, the Very Reverend Doctor Frances Ward, wrote to Mr Ruffley.

She told the MP she had met his ex partner, a friend of hers, shortly after the incident and she was wincing in "obvious pain".

'Dreadful crime'

The dean is far from the only senior figure to question whether Mr Ruffley, who was reselected as the Conservative candidate for the constituency in next year's general election before his arrest, to have cast doubt on whether he has a future in Parliament.

In a statement, Tim Passmore, the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk, said: "If a caution is accepted by the offender then there is, I believe, an implicit admission of guilt.

"The caution was made by the Metropolitan Police. I would like to reiterate that domestic abuse is a dreadful crime which should not, and must not ever be tolerated, regardless of the circumstances. This applies to all people regardless of wealth or status in society."

Mr Passmore went on: "The future of David Ruffley as a member of parliament and prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for the Bury St Edmunds constituency is a matter for their association but I hope I have made my views entirely clear, such behaviour is inexcusable.

"Those of us in a leadership role in society must do our level best at all times and try to set a good example to others in what we do and how we behave - that includes all politicians regardless of any party affiliation. In my opinion there cannot and must not be any hiding place for the perpetrators of such brutal crimes."

A Conservative Party spokesman told the BBC the matter was investigated by the police and "dealt with by them at the time".

But Bury St Edmunds Conservative Association executive is due to meet next week and, amongst the items expected to be discussed is Mr Ruffley's future.

There is a growing recognition within Tory ranks both locally and at Westminster that this issue is not going away - and will need to be resolved soon.