Wales politics

General election 2019: Alun Cairns refuses to give details on rape trial row

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Media captionThe ex-Welsh secretary declines to answer questions about a row that led him to quit

A former minister has refused to answer questions on when he knew his former aide had "sabotaged" a rape trial, in his first interview since the story broke.

Alun Cairns, who resigned as Welsh secretary on Wednesday, said he was "determined to clear his name".

His former aide was selected as an assembly candidate eight months after the trial collapsed.

Mr Cairns is facing pressure to quit as a general election candidate.

His former colleague Ross England told a rape trial in April 2018 that he had been in a casual sexual relationship with the victim - claims the victim had denied.

He was thrown out of court by the judge, who had ruled such evidence inadmissible, and the trial collapsed. The defendant James Hackett was subsequently convicted of rape at a retrial.

Mr Cairns had denied he knew about the trial's collapse until last week, but resigned after BBC Wales obtained an email addressed to him discussing the case - it had been sent in August 2018.

Asked how he reconciled the differences between the statement and the email, Mr Cairns said: "This is a highly sensitive situation, and I've taken this seriously throughout."

Image caption Alun Cairn, standing with his mother Maragret (L) and his wife Emma (R), said he is "determined to clear his name"

Interviewed with his mother Margaret and his wife Emma by his side, the politician said: "The party has made a statement that has expressed sympathy to the victim. That is something I would absolutely fully support".

"Now it's important to realise that I had nothing, no association in anyway with the trial and that I've stood aside as the secretary of state for Wales in order to give the cabinet office the space they need to fully look at all of the facts so they can come to a conclusion and a judgement.

"I'm keen to get on with the campaign of the general election. Of course people will judge all of the facts rather than trial by media."

Asked by BBC Wales if he would stick to what he had said previously, he said: "There is a due process", referring to an investigation that will be carried out by the cabinet office.

He said Mr England "left my employment some 13 months before the trial", and that he had "no communication from the court or the judge".

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Media captionBoris Johnson denied his general election campaign had been thrown off course by a rape trial row

It was put to Mr Cairns that BBC Wales had spoken to sources within the Conservative Party who had been aware of the matter. Asked why he did not know about the situation if they did, he repeated his argument.

"Let the cabinet office look at all of the evidence, let them take into account all of the facts, and they will make the judgement rather than be faced by trial by media," he said.

Mr Cairns then left the interview.

Criticising the comments, a Welsh Conservative source said: "We can't go on for the next five weeks with this hanging over the party with the constant flow of damaging interviews like we've seen today".

Image caption Ross England has been suspended as a candidate for the Vale of Glamorgan at the assembly election

Mr Cairns resigned from the cabinet following the publication of the email earlier this week.

Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats have called for Mr Cairns to quit as a general election candidate, as has the rape victim at the centre of the case.

The email message on 2 August 2018 was sent to Mr Cairns by Geraint Evans, his special adviser. It was also copied to Richard Minshull - the director of the Welsh Conservatives - and another member of staff.

It said: "I have spoken to Ross and he is confident no action will be taken by the court."

In December 2018, the former Welsh secretary endorsed Mr England's candidacy to represent the Vale of Glamorgan in the 2021 Welsh assembly election.

At the time of his selection to stand as an AM, Mr Cairns described Mr England as a "friend and colleague" with whom "it will be a pleasure to campaign".

Mr England was suspended as a candidate and as an employee last week after details of the court case emerged. The Welsh Conservative party said a "full investigation will be conducted".

Other candidates standing in the Vale of Glamorgan for the 12 December general election include Belinda Loveluck-Edwards for Welsh Labour and Anthony Slaughter for the Wales Green Party.

The close of nominations is 14 November.

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