“I don’t support Plan B” – Simon Jupp MP

Dear Simon, 

Throughout the pandemic Boris Johnson’s boosterish approach can be characterised as either doing too little too late, as with the original lockdown, or doing too much too soon, as when he let the cork out of the bottle on  “freedom day”. “Eat out to help out” supercharged last autumn’s infection wave.

An approach Dominic Cummings described as like a ‘shopping trolley smashing between aisles’.

The public knows this and, from the start, have anticipated events, taking matters into their own hands. Many were locking down in early March 2020 before the official start date. Reports of cancellation of Christmas parties this year started well before the latest announcement about Plan B.

We also know from the experience of the last two years that action taken too late leads to the need to act more severely later on.

A very high proportion of your constituents feel vulnerable to this infection. Confidence in the way the pandemic is being handled is an essential prerequisite if the general population is to feel secure to venture out. It is lack of confidence that costs jobs.

Owl

Police accused of harassing child sex crime victim

Utterly appalling – Owl

‘Intimidation and threats’ says man assaulted by councillor

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk 

A man who was sexually assaulted as a child by a former East Devon District councillor says “there are still so many questions to be answered” after addressing a full council meeting about “decades of pain and trauma” made worse, he alleges, by police inaction, intimidation – and even threats to his friends and family by police officers. 

John Humphreys, a former Conservative councillor and mayor of Exmouth, is serving 21 years in prison for sexual assaulting two boys 10 years apart. He had been arrested in May 2016 and was under investigation for over five years before going to court. The judge at his trial said six of his offences should be assessed against the modern guidelines for rape.

One unnamed victim, an Exmouth resident, wrote a letter to Councillor Eileen Wragg (Liberal Democrats, Democratic Alliance Group) which was read out at full council meeting this week. 

In the letter, the victim questioned why Mr Humphreys was allowed to carry on as councillor whilst he was being investigated, a process which began in May 2016. He also asked how no one knew Mr Humphreys was under police investigation when he was offered the honorary title of alderman in 2019.

The award is made by many councils, including East Devon, to former councillors who may then continue to represent the local authority at some functions.

In his letter read to councillors, the man wrote: “I am one of many victims of John Humphreys crimes and I want members and officers of this council and the public to hear of what I have had to endure for the last 22 years.”

He explained that he was sent from school as a 14-year-old for work experience at Humphreys’ gardening business where he endured multiple sexual assaults between 1999 and 2001. He told the council that he had made a statement to police in 2004 but that the case was dropped the following year. He alleges that besides making no progress on the case, the police harassed him.

When the revelations about Jimmie Saville came out after his death in 2011, the victim decided to try again. He told the council: “I met my partner and when we found out she was pregnant I thought ‘let’s do something about it now I’m bringing a child into the world.’ 

“I rang up to get the case reopened again in 2012. All I got was a threatening phone call from a Tiverton officer. His near exact words were ‘Humphreys is now mayor. He’s getting on with his life. If you do anything or proceed with this in court, we will come for your friends and family.’

“I made an official complaint about the threats and was asked into Sidmouth police station. They said an apology will be read out.

“It was handwritten and wasn’t even an apology. I wasn’t given anything in writing that I could take away. When Humphreys’ case came to court this year, not being able to talk about how the police had treated me was my biggest concern. ‘Don’t open this can of worms right now,’ was all that was said to me.

“I just felt like blurting it out, stood in the box, once all the lies were being thrown at me.

“In 2015, after many more years of mental stress, a knock came on the door of my mum’s house. It was a female police officer. Someone else had come forward. I couldn’t believe it.

“I’d not been believed twice – but the other victim was a lot older than me and maybe more credible, and there was a third and fourth victim, too. But it still took another six years for justice to be done.”

Humphreys was originally arrested in May 2016 but it took over five years for the case to come to court.  The victim says that Humphreys knew that the case was live during the period of 2016 to 2021 – during which time he served as a councillor before standing down and subsequently being awarded the ‘alderman’ title for his services to the district. 

“This leaves me wondering,” read the letter, “‘who else knew and how was he allowed to carry on as usual being a councillor at Exmouth and East Devon?’

The victim said he had a psychological fear of Mr Humphreys because of his standing and influence in the community. He said: “I still feel that Humphreys has been favoured because of his connections, his apparent good character and social standing as a councillor.”

“In my mind, he has been a monster to me. He took away my teenage years and this has gone into my adulthood. I should have retained that innocence – but that choice was taken away from me by this man. 

“There are still so many questions to be answered. After the verdict, I was still ignored. I’d like to be heard. It is important to me that the council hears me, hears my statement. What difference it makes I don’t know. Maybe a few people will be sat there worried. It will be nice to be heard.”

Councillor Eileen Wragg, who was visibly upset after reading the statement, praised the bravery of the victim and his mother. She told the council that she met the victim earlier this month. She said: “He’s entirely credible. He’s obviously been deeply affected.

“The worrying aspect of this for me was there was no criminal record. A DBS check wouldn’t have picked that up. The worrying thing is that children were being sent from the school straight to a paedophile for work experience. That is so worrying. There is a lot more that needs to be investigated here.”

Leader of the council Paul Arnott (Democratic Alliance Group, Coly Valley) said the victim is “one of the bravest people who has ever lived in East Devon.”

He added: “I think that’s really important. Not only has he seen this through to a prosecution, he has brought forward this statement tonight through Councillor Wragg.”

Councillor Ben Ingham (Conservative, Woodbury and Lympstone) thanked Cllr Wragg for reading the statement and the victim for writing the letter. He said: “I believe we all needed to hear that.”  

Cllr Arnott told the council that would be writing to the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, Shawn Sawyer, asking him to “refer his force” to the Independent Office for Police Conduct to look at how the case was handled in earlier years. 

He will alo be writing to East Devon Conservatives asking if an inquiry has taken place into Humphreys and to share its conclusions if such an inquiry has taken place.

Cllr Arnott also said at full council that he believes some members of the council must have known that Humphreys was under investigation. The Conservative dismiss this claim, saying they did not know: “For the simple reason it would have been wholly inappropriate for the police to share details of a live investigation with those not connected with the case.”

In response to allegations about the conduct of police officers, a statement from Devon and Cornwall Police said: “We are aware of an East Devon District Council meeting that was held online yesterday (Wednesday 8 December), which included a statement that was read out on behalf of a victim of John Humphreys, the former mayor of Exmouth who was jailed in August for 21 years after being found guilty of historic sex offences against two boys.

“This case was a long and protracted investigation involving historic sexual offences that dated back more than 30 years to the early and late 1990s; the conviction was only possible due to the tenacity, patience and strength of the victims who put their trust in our officers who investigating these matters.

 “Whilst we sincerely hoped that the guilty verdict and strong sentence would allow our victims to move on with their lives, last night’s statement does show that more still needs to be done.

“Therefore, officers will be reaching out to the victims in this case to offer them further support, and if requested, to assist with commencing a formal complaint into how this case was initially handled.”

Read the letter in full here: https://bit.ly/3lRKcA5 

Boris Johnson accused of misleading ethics adviser over No 10 refurb

Boris Johnson was accused of misleading his own ethics adviser last night, exposing the prime minister to a potential suspension from the House of Commons, as MPs demanded a fresh probe into his personal donors.

Jessica Elgot www.theguardian.com 

With pressure mounting after a disastrous series of mistakes and scandals, Johnson’s integrity was once again under the spotlight after an official report suggested he gave differing accounts to investigators looking into the redecoration of his Downing Street flat.

Their calls were provoked by a report published yesterday by the Electoral Commission, which had spent eight months investigating the funding of the costly redecoration. The commission fined the Conservative party £17,800 for serious donation reporting failures relating to the work.

But documents released by the commission also revealed Johnson sent a WhatsApp message to the Tory donor Lord Brownlow in November last year seeking more money for the costly makeover.

In an earlier inquiry into the matter, Johnson had assured Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, that he did not know who had given money for the work until it was revealed by the media in February this year.

Though Downing Street denied there was any inconsistency, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said Johnson “must now explain why he lied to the British public”. She said the prime minister was taking people for fools.

The Labour MP Margaret Hodge has written to the parliamentary standards commissioner, Kathryn Stone, urging her to investigate whether Johnson misledLord Geidt, who had cleared him of breaching the ministerial code.

In a letter seen by the Guardian, Hodge said it “appears that the prime minister may have lied” to Geidt’s inquiry about when Johnson became aware of the donations. “If these allegations are true, then this would be an egregious case of dishonesty and a breach of the Nolan principles.”

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said the discrepancy in accounts was “extremely serious”. “How do standards function if PM doesn’t tell truth to Geidt?” she tweeted.

Geidt is said to be expecting an explanation from Johnson about the potential discrepancy between what he was told and what the Electoral Commission report found.

Should Stone launch an investigation, it would set Conservative MPs up for another clash over the regulation of MPs, with many Tories still wounded from an attempt to change the rules over sanctions for the Tory MP Owen Paterson, who was found to have breached lobbying rules.

Though it would be politically unprecedented, the commissioner’s powers do include recommending the suspension of an MP and – depending on the length of the suspension – a recall petition in their constituency. If 10% of voters there are in favour of a byelection, the MP must face the voters again

The furore over the flat refurbishment has dogged Johnson for months. The money for the work came from the Tory peer, David Brownlow, via his company Huntswood Associates Ltd. It was used to cover the costs of extensive and costly refurbishment changes to the flat above No 11 Downing Street, where Johnson, his wife, Carrie, and their children live.

The commission’s report sets out previously unreported details that suggest Johnson knew about the donation from Brownlow earlier than he had previously told Geidt. In his report, Geidt said the prime minister insisted “he knew nothing about such payments until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021”.

Nevertheless, the commission’s report makes clear that on 23 June 2020, Johnson offered Brownlow the role of chair of the Downing Street Trust role, and on 29 November messaged Brownlow on WhatsApp asking him to authorise further refurbishment works on the flat.

Downing Street claimed there was no inconsistency between the Geidt and Electoral Commission reports, as Johnson only knew that Brownlow was organising donations to pay for the refurbishment works, not that Brownlow was himself “the underlying donor”. Brownlow had “behaved in a confidential manner” after being appointed to head the blind trust in June 2020, Johnson’s spokesperson said.

“Despite the prime minister and Lord Brownlow having some limited contact during the following three months, the record shows no evidence that the prime minister had been informed by Lord Brownlow that he had personally settled the total cost,” he said.

The spokesperson declined to explain why some payments for the flat, including one of £59,000, were cited in the new report but had not seemingly been declared by Johnson, saying this was “in the most part a matter for” Conservative HQ. They added: “The prime minister has acted in accordance with the rules at all times. He has made any requisite declarations.”

Saying Johnson had full confidence in Geidt, the spokesperson declined to say whether Geidt had seen the messages to Brownlow before writing his report.

In total, Johnson repaid more than £110,000 for flat refurbishments, reported to have included wallpaper costing £840 a roll. Carrie Johnson is reported to have enlisted the sought-after interior designer Lulu Lyttle for the works.

Brownlow was approached to chair the Downing Street Trust, a trust to pay for works to Downing Street using anonymous donations. By June, when lockdown began to ease, the refurbishment was under way.

The Cabinet Office agreed to pay the extra costs from three invoices totalling £52,801, then be reimbursed by the Conservatives on the basis that a trust would be set up later.

Around a month later, on 6 August, the party reimbursed the government. In September, the supplier then invoiced the Cabinet Office for a further £12,967, which was forwarded first to Brownlow and then to Conservative central headquarters (CCHQ).

The following month, Brownlow confirmed in a crucial paper trail email that he would be making a £15,000 donation and “£52,801.72 to cover payments the party has made on behalf of the soon-to-be-formed ‘Downing Street Trust’ of which I am chairman”. On the same day, 19 October, he paid £12,967 to the supplier for the invoice received in September.

When a junior party staffer raised questions about the £52,801 which was treated as “funds for reimbursement” rather than a donation, they were told by a senior fundraising officer: “Don’t worry.”

Brownlow made two more payments directly to the supplier, bringing the total sum to £112,549. The following month, Johnson paid back the cash to the supplier, which then returned the funds it had received from Brownlow and the Cabinet Office.

How Johnson footed the bill remains unknown. The commission said: “Any payments between the prime minister and the supplier are outside the scope of our investigation.”

And from today’s Telegraph:

Boris Johnson’s standards adviser on brink of quitting over Downing Street flat

Lord Geidt considering his position after Prime Minister allegedly misled him over refurbishment

Boris Johnson’s press chief Jack Doyle spoke at No 10 party last year

The PM’s press chief addressed staff and gave out awards at a Downing Street party last Christmas that is now under investigation, it is understood.

www.bbc.co.uk

Jack Doyle, then deputy director of communications, gave a speech to 20-30 people at the gathering on 18 December.

A source has told the BBC there were food, drinks and games at the event.

Downing Street said: “There is an ongoing review, and we won’t be commenting further while that is the case.”

This event is one of three government staff gatherings from last year now being investigated by the UK’s top civil servant, Simon Case.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said news of Mr Doyle’s attendance had “exposed” Mr Case’s inquiry as a “sham”.

Mr Doyle was also attending Covid meetings in No 10 that night, which went on until late in the evening, the BBC has been told.

It is understood every Friday Mr Doyle would thank staff for working hard and give out an award.

ITV News, which first reported that Mr Doyle was present at this event on 18 December, said he had also handed out award certificates to staff on this occasion.

The event took place two days after London went into Tier 3 lockdown restrictions, meaning people were told not to mix indoors with anyone outside their household or support bubble.

No 10 has refused to explain how the party complied with Covid restrictions in force at the time, despite a deepening row and days of questioning by reporters.

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Analysis box by Laura Kuenssberg, political editor

Sources in Westminster are questioning whether it’s possible for Jack Doyle to stay in his job. In part that’s because one of the problems this week for No 10 has been their efforts to deny and explain what did or didn’t happen.

Ministers, and the prime minister himself, have been stuck in the Kafka-esque position of saying that they are sure no rules were broken, but they also don’t know what went on.

If they don’t know what happened, how can they be sure that nothing went wrong?

And if multiple sources have said there was a gathering of several dozen people, and people who were not on the Downing Street payroll had been invited, how can that have been just a few work drinks at the desk in a Covid-secure office?

Mr Doyle, well-liked by his colleagues, is – as director of communications – in charge of the government’s messaging. This week the message has misfired, which makes his confirmed attendance a very big problem.

And for government spinners over the years have often found, there is one fundamental error they cannot make. That’s to become part of the story themselves, an uncomfortable position that Boris Johnson’s press chief now finds himself in.

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