The deputy prime minister has denied that the Conservatives covered up a rape allegation against one of their own MPs.
Oliver Dowden insisted the Tory party has a “zero tolerance” approach to sexual misconduct after claims allegations of rape against an MP were not properly handled, potentially allowing them to continue to offend.
But he said he could not “say for certain” that his party did not pay an alleged victim’s private hospital fees.
And the former party chair, who stood down from the role in June 2022, urged anyone with concerns to take them to the police.
His comments came after it emerged that former party chair Sir Jake Berry wrote to police amid concerns over how the allegations of rape were dealt with, according to a letter published in The Mail on Sunday.
The document also said that one alleged victim was receiving support paid for by the Conservative Party.
Former Conservative Justice Secretary Sir Robert Buckland has now called for a "standardised system" to deal with allegations of sexual assault against MPs.
Challenged about the suggestion of a cover-up, Mr Dowden, who was party chair in 2021 and 2022, said: “I don’t recognise in any form the idea that we covered up. And I can assure you categorically that it was not the case that when I was chairman of the Conservative Party that I covered up any allegations.”
The allegations were “very serious” and the party took them “exceptionally seriously”, he told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme. Anyone with concerns should “take them to the police”, he added.
He later told GB News that he “can’t say for certain” that the Conservative Party did not pay an alleged victim’s private hospital bills.
When asked about reported payments to an alleged victim, he told Times Radio: “I’m not denying that it could be the case that those payments were made, but it’s not something that I authorised or was part of as chairman of the Conservative Party.”
The allegations around the MP, who has not been named, come as the paper publishes extracts from Nadine Dorries’ book claiming there was a plot to oust Boris Johnson from Downing Street.
The extracts also claim that:
An MP had sex with a prostitute on a billiard table watched by four other MPs, who were cheering
Another MP was holding a laptop containing indecent images of children on behalf of a relative
The Tory whips’ office has a video of a minister engaged in an adulterous sexual act
The security camera which caught former health secretary Matt Hancock kissing an aide in his office was allegedly tampered with
Sources claimed Sonia Khan, an ex-adviser to then chancellor Sajid Javid, had to call police “a number of times” after she was “stalked” and “filmed” after launching legal action against the Treasury over her sacking
Sir Jake, who was party chair during Liz Truss’s premiership last autumn, is reported to have written the letter, along with former chief whip Wendy Morton, to police shortly after leaving the job in October 2022.
The paper reports that the letter reads: “There may have been five victims of X – who have been subject to a range of offences including multiple rapes.”
The letter also says that the matter had been going on for more than two years and adds: “The failure of others to act has enabled X to continue to offend.
“This is not something we are prepared to see continue and collectively we have therefore raised the issue with both you and the Speaker’s Office in the House of Commons seeking an immediate police investigation.”
The newspaper also reported that it had seen a report by two investigators which warned that the case had been handled so poorly that the party itself could be found criminally liable.
In recent months, the Conservatives have faced a raft of allegations of misbehaviour and sexual misconduct against the party’s MPs.
On BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, Sir Robert said: “There needs to be a standardised system in which complainants and victims know that they’ll be treated fairly and equally just as much as anyone else.
“My take away from this is that every time we hear about these matters there seems to be a different way of dealing with them in each case – that can’t be right.”