Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Written Evidence


13.  Written statement by Dr Vanessa Gearson, 16 October 2003

[See also Volume III, PCS Oral Evidence 9]

In the matter of the investigation into the employment of Betsy Duncan Smith

Introduction

It is with great reluctance that I find myself having to set out the following facts, as I understand them, after what has been an extraordinarily difficult period in my professional life. I set out in this document everything I can recall to be relevant to the remit of your investigation in the interests of openness and transparency.

From the time I assumed the role of Head of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition in August 2002 my primary concern was to impose an effective, professional and transparent organisation and structure on the Leader's Private Office that would serve his needs, while meeting the rules set out by the House of Commons Fees Office and the internal audit requirements set by Conservative Central Office (CCO). In an attempt to promote greater vigilance and respect for budgetary procedures, financial control and the requirements for financial record keeping within the Leader's Office, I repeatedly sought to raise these and other matters with the Leader through his Parliamentary Private Secretary and subsequently, the Chairman of the Conservative Party, the Chief Executive, the Deputy Chief Executive and the Treasurer of the Conservative Party. My job was to protect the Leader.

Relevance of Submission

The relevance of my submission is based on the following facts:

·  I was Head of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition from August 2002 to September 2003.

·  The political and parliamentary offices of Mr Duncan Smith were, by necessity, entirely integrated. As Head of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition I was in a unique and pivotal position in overseeing the work carried out in both offices.

·  I worked in very close physical proximity to those working directly for Mr Duncan Smith in a parliamentary capacity and was therefore able to observe at very close quarter exactly what work was carried out on behalf of Mr Duncan Smith as the MP for Chingford and Woodford Green on a day to day basis.

·  My experience over five years of running both MPs' constituency/parliamentary offices and the political offices of the Chairman and Leader of the Conservative Party gives me a very unique insight and understanding of the requirements of these offices.

·  I am well informed on the regulations stipulated by the House of Commons Fees Office regarding Members' allowances.

·  My statement, insofar as it relates to Mrs Duncan Smith's employment, is centred on the period of August 2002 to the end of December 2002.

·  I have not visited Swanboume, the home of Mr and Mrs Duncan Smith.I was not responsible for submissions to the House of Commons Fees Office relating to Mrs Duncan Smith's employment.

Key Conclusion

In the context of this background and the information I submit below, it was my conclusion that the press allegations made regarding the employment of Mrs Duncan Smith were significantly more likely to be true than not. It was on that basis that I reluctantly had to express myself unwilling to support Mr Duncan Smith's contention that his wife had worked for him in a significant capacity during the time I spent as head of his office. If she had, I would certainly expect to have witnessed evidence of this work and for there to have been practical implications associated with it. I would also have expected to have had direct contact with her myself.

I do not contend that Mrs Duncan Smith could not have worked for Mr Duncan Smith during this period but rather that I saw absolutely no evidence of the work carried out by Mrs Duncan Smith and cannot establish, by analysing the distribution of tasks and responsibilities within the two offices, what work she was effectively carrying out.

The four key tasks as I see them are as follows:

·  The Diary—I saw no evidence of Mrs Duncan Smith performing a professional role regarding the diary.

·  Correspondence—I saw no evidence that Mrs Duncan Smith wrote any letters on Mr Duncan Smith's behalf

·  Financial Arrangements—I saw no evidence that Mrs Duncan Smith took any responsibility in this regard.

·  Practical Considerations—I saw no evidence of Mrs Duncan Smith requesting office supplies that she would have reasonably needed in order to have carried out such a role.

I shall discuss each of these issues below.

In conclusion, Mrs Duncan Smith was simply not a part of the integrated day to day organisation of Mr Duncan Smith's offices other than in her capacity as the wife of the Leader. She had no specific authority and no defined area of work or responsibility within what was a structured office organisation. Her contact with the office was irregular and usually limited to the matter of diary dates in which she or her sons and daughters were affected She would pass on messages regarding Mr Duncan Smith's personal arrangements and would if anything, generate work for Mrs Watson, Mr Duncan Smith's Private Secretary, in particular who dealt with her personal correspondence, invitations, liaison with the constituency and dress requirements.

The Office to the Leader of the Opposition

I was appointed to the post of Head of the Leader's Office by The Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP on the 12th August 2002, having previously worked as Private Secretary to the Chairman of the Conservative Party at Conservative Central Office (CCO) since 7 May 2002. Prior to my employment at CCO, I had worked at the House of Commons for three years and eight months as a Private Secretary to James Gray MP from 8th May 2000 until May 3rd 2002 and previously for the late Michael Colvin MP and his trustees from 1st September 1998 until 5th May 2000. I commenced working in my present post as Deputy Director (Organisation) of CCO on 1st September 2003.

My recent experience of running the parliamentary offices of two Members of Parliament makes me particularly aware of the requirements for the successful organisation and maintenance of an MP's office. I had also made regular submissions to the Fees Office on behalf of the Members for whom I worked and was therefore very familiar with the regulations stipulated by the House of Commons Fees Office regarding the employment of staff, and the allowances afforded to Members of Parliament for the payment of staff and other incidental expenses.

Before commencing my role as Head of the Leader's Office I had already established very close relations with the Leader's Office and its staff with whom I had daily contact, not least because our offices were actually situated along the same corridor of the 1st floor of CCO, alongside the office of the then Chief Executive, Mark MacGregor, and Deputy Chief Executive, Stephen Gilbert, who shared a small office. As Private Secretary to the Chairman the function of our respective offices overlapped in a number of areas. I took up my post as Head of the Leader's Office in the summer of 2002 well briefed on the issues affecting the Leader's Office. Indeed, I was sufficiently briefed to submit a paper to Mr Duncan Smith in July 2002 proposing a series of changes to the office structure to deal with the problems it was facing.

In my post, I succeeded Mr Duncan Smith's Chief of Staff, Ms Jenny Ungless and received my instructions directly from Mr Duncan Smith. I assumed responsibility for nine members of staff who occupied the following roles: Deputy Head of the Leader's Office (Miss Rebecca Layton), Private Secretary (Mrs Christine Watson), Diary Secretary (Mr Andrew Whitby-Collins until October 2002 and succeeded by Miss Paula Malone), Aide de Camp (Mr Jonathan Hellewell), two Administration and Correspondence Secretaries (Mr Adrian Muldrew and Miss Emily Cavendish) and three members of the Leader's Correspondence Unit (including Mr Ian Philps, Mr Anthony Wells and Miss Eleanor Hudson). We also had a number of interns who came to the office for a period of weeks or months, usually unpaid for work experience. Mr Duncan Smith also had a personal press officer who reported to Mr Nick Wood, Head of Media. The purpose of this wide range of staff was to ensure that every possible aspect of his work as Leader of the Opposition was dealt with as appropriately and as efficiently as possible.

Mrs Christine Watson, who had worked as Mr Duncan Smith's constituency private secretary based at Westminster since he became Leader, was appointed Mr Duncan Smith's Private Secretary as Leader of the Opposition at the end of August 2002. Mr Duncan Smith had chosen to move his previous Private Secretary, Miss Annabelle Eyre, the daughter of Lady Monica Eyre, a long standing family friend of Mrs Duncan Smith, to become Head of Planning and Tours. Miss Eyre had previously worked as Mr Duncan Smith's constituency private secretary prior to his becoming Leader. The Leader's Diary Secretary at the time, Mr Andrew Whitby-Collins, had already been offered a post as Head of the Candidates Department and was keen to move to his new job as soon as possible. I therefore appointed Miss Paula Malone to replace him as Diary Secretary and she commenced her new role immediately after the Conservative Party Conference (w/c 14th October 2002).

In the weeks prior to my appointment I had had a number of discussions with Mr Duncan Smith, regarding the nature and scope of my proposed role and the plans he had set in place for restructuring the arrangements in both of his offices. At no time was the role of Mrs Duncan Smith mentioned her duties were not explained or set in the context of his revised arrangements. Indeed, even when I started my new job Mrs Duncan Smith was not mentioned outside the context that she was Mr Duncan Smith wife.

Mr Duncan Smith's Constituency Office Arrangements

As a result of the cascade of staff changes described above, Mrs Watson was given responsibility for finding a replacement private secretary for Mr Duncan Smith's constituency office and Miss Cara Walker, a graduate who had left university that summer (2002) and is a friend of Mrs Watson's daughter who is of a similar age, was immediately appointed.

The working day was evenly split between two locations. We spent the mornings at the Leader's Office and Outer Office at CCO, where Mr Duncan Smith's Private Secretary, Christine Watson, was seated directly opposite me within six feet from me, sitting opposite. We were so close that we would often take each other's telephone calls if one or the other were otherwise occupied. Miss Walker sat in an adjacent room to our office while she was trained and supervised by Mrs Watson during the first weeks of her appointment and frequently came to ask for advice or guidance from either one of us.

In the afternoons we would move to the Leader's Office at the House of Commons where I sat at a separate desk to Mrs Watson some twelve feet apart, within sight and earshot of everything she and the Diary Secretary, seated six feet away, were doing. Miss Walker and subsequently Mr Duncan Smith's researcher, Mr Tom Hooper, were seated in Room G1, on the ground floor of the Shadow Cabinet Block, immediately below the offices of the Leader of the Opposition. Miss Walker and Mr Hooper would frequently visit the Leader's Office during the day for regular meetings with Mrs Watson, to seek advice or to use the kitchen.

It would be fair to say that on the basis of sheer proximity alone, I was intimately familiar with the workings of the constituency office, what work was being carried out and by whom, the key individuals associated with Mr Duncan Smith's constituency including his agent and chairman of his association—even the issues that particularly affected Mr Duncan Smith's constituency and the details regarding the arrangement of his constituency visits. I would certainly have been aware Mrs Watson had been receiving the number of telephone calls from Mrs Duncan Smith that might reasonably have been expected were she working 25 hours a week.

Mrs Duncan Smith's involvement with the offices

Besides a number of political responsibilities, the primary function of my role was to ensure the efficient and effective running of Mr Duncan Smith's office in his capacity as Leader of the Opposition. In order to achieve this objective, it was imperative that Mr Duncan Smith's parliamentary and political offices worked alongside one another in as integrated a fashion as possible. This meant that administrative structures and procedures were often set in tandem to ensure a cohesive operation. Particular care and emphasis was placed on Mr Duncan Smith's diary, correspondence and financial affairs.

In none of these areas was I ever made aware of the role of Mrs Duncan Smith. The only contact that took place was what would be considered reasonable communication with the spouse of a Member of Parliament, in this case the Leader of the Opposition. I can confirm that in the four months of my appointment during which Mrs Duncan Smith was paid by her husband she only made contact with me once in a telephone call to inform me of a potential supporter that she had met a dinner party.

It might be helpful if I describe the functions of two specific areas of work which occupied a great deal of our professional activity:

·  The Diary:

The organisation of Mr Duncan Smith's diary was my responsibility although it was managed by the diary secretary. Invitations for Mr Duncan Smith and occasionally Mrs Duncan Smith were received, considered and responded to within the Leader's Office with decisions being made by me in consultation with Owen Paterson MP, Mr Duncan Smith's Parliamentary Private Secretary, and occasionally by Mr Duncan Smith himself. Mrs Duncan Smith was never involved in this decision making process although she would naturally be consulted or advised if an invitation occurred over a weekend or clashed with a family engagement. This was appropriate and courteous behaviour towards Mrs Duncan Smith as the Leader's wife but, to my knowledge, Mrs Duncan Smith did not play a role in the organisation or management of the diary.

As the diary was planned months in advance, a series of days would be set aside for Mr Duncan Smith's constituency visits and regular surgeries. These usually occurred on Fridays. The days were carefully planned by Miss Walker and Mrs Watson. On the occasion that Mrs Duncan Smith chose to accompany Mr Duncan Smith to a specific constituency event she would of course be contacted and given the appropriate details. Her understanding of Mr Duncan Smith's role as Member of Parliament and that of Leader often appeared blurred.

Mrs Duncan Smith would advise the Diary Secretary of the details of their children's school engagements. Three of the children were at boarding school while one attended a day school. Details of exeats, school concerts and other associated school activities were regularly passed to the Diary Secretary for inclusion into the diary. The diary would then be sent to Mrs Duncan Smith on a regular basis for her information only. Amendments from Mrs Duncan Smith referred solely to personal and family matters Mrs Duncan Smith was very protective of what she considered to be family time (weekends and parliamentary recesses) and would contact the office to object when circumstances beyond the control of the office meant that this time was interfered with i.e. last minute media bids. She appeared to have an unrealistic appreciation of the huge pressures Mr Duncan Smith faced in his role as Leader of the Opposition or the extent to which this made his life public.

There were naturally occasions when Mrs Duncan Smith received invitations in her own right as the wife of the Leader. These would be sent to Mrs Duncan Smith by Mrs Watson and Mrs Duncan Smith would communicate her response either by telephone or by email. Such activities do not, however, constitute work authorised for Fees Office reimbursement in my understanding of the regulations.

In my judgement, these objections to diary dates could not reasonably be described as co-ordination of the diary. Indeed, Mrs Duncan Smith did not receive or open the invitations. She did not attend a single diary meeting where invitations were explained and discussed. She did not interest herself in, nor was she advised of the outcome of these meetings. Between meetings if there were doubts regarding Mr Duncan Smith's willingness to accept an invitation, a note would be prepared for Mr Duncan Smith and put into his box. He would respond by writing his decision on the note, in his own handwriting. Nor am I aware of a single letter of acceptance or refusal having been written by her during the period concerned.

·  Correspondence:

All correspondence addressed to Mr Duncan Smith was delivered to the House of Commons where it was collected by a member of staff from the Correspondence Unit. It was taken to CCO, opened and filtered into separate files to the appropriate member of staff either in the parliamentary office or in the Leader's Office. Mrs Duncan Smith was not regarded as a member of staff in this capacity and did not have her own correspondence file. It is my view that were she to have been writing letters (connected with the diary say) under her own name, she would have received letters in return.

Correspondence was divided into a range of categories: letters to Mr Duncan Smith as MP for Chingford and Woodford Green were passed to Mrs Watson and then to Miss Walker; letters from Members of Parliament were given to Mr Jonathan Hellewell to draft replies to be signed by Mr Paterson; invitations and confirmation details for events in the diary would be passed to the Diary Secretary; personal letters would be passed to Mrs Watson; letters relating to tours past or present were passed to Miss Eyre; requests for messages for support for Conservative association handbooks, newsletters, fund-raisers and conferences as well as messages for charities and other organisations were passed to one of the Correspondence Secretaries. All other correspondence, from members of the public on other matters, were dealt with by the Correspondence Unit. The letters received totalled an average of between 800 and 1,000 per week, depending on the time of year and current issues. None of the above correspondence was, to my certain knowledge, handled by Mrs Duncan Smith.

I was not aware that Mrs Duncan Smith requested office supplies that would have enabled her to be involved in matters of correspondence. She did not appear to request House of Commons letter headed paper or envelopes at any time in the period from August to December 2002.

At the end of every working day, Mr Duncan Smith's box would be prepared either for him to take with him personally or to be given to his Government Car Service Driver. There were often a substantial number of documents and correspondence which needed to be collated and great care was taken to ensure that each and every document was placed in its own plastic folder with a covering note identifying what the folder contained and what action was required from Mr Duncan Smith. These documents were placed in the box in order of their immediate priority. Separately, Mr Duncan Smith's parliamentary correspondence was collated and placed in its own or several House of Commons plastic mailers again clearly identifying what each envelope contained. Although Mr Duncan Smith held regular meetings with Miss Walker and his researcher to discuss constituency matters, he also had regular time set aside in the diary for the signing of his parliamentary letters. On Thursdays and Fridays, there was often a significant amount of correspondence totalling more than one hundred letters for Mr Duncan Smith to sign. These would usually be returned on the following Monday or later in the week if the House had risen and Mr Duncan Smith was at home. The letters were then put into envelopes by Miss Walker or an intern and posted from the House of Commons.

From the start of the process of correspondence, upon receipt of the letter, to the end when a reply was posted, Mrs Duncan Smith did not appear to play apart. Unless the correspondence was specifically relevant to her i.e. it required her to attend an event or for her to give her support to a particular organisation, she was not involved or consulted in the process. At no time did I hear her name mentioned as a key individual in this capacity.

It may also be helpful to point out the very limited personal involvement Mrs Duncan Smith had in Mr Duncan Smith's life at Westminster. Matters including the limited furnishing of his flat, the issue and collection of his laundry, the cleaning of his flat and the purchase of food were all arranged and often supplied by Mrs Watson on a weekly basis. Occasionally, evening meetings over dinner were arranged at his flat and Mrs Watson would invariably purchase the food herself and organise the dinner. Mr Duncan Smith relied heavily on Owen Paterson who owned a flat in the same block and Mr Paterson would very often call on Mr Duncan Smith first thing in the morning or sometimes invite him to dinner at his flat, prepared by Mr Paterson's wife, if he was alone.

Mrs Watson's involvement at every level of Mr Duncan Smith's life is described extensively in her memo to me dated 24th October 2002. This details the extensive work that she was undertaking in managing his parliamentary diary, correspondence and other co-ordinating functions. However, what is most significant about her memo is that in detailing all of the tasks she undertakes, it is difficult to understand what other tasks might have remained for Mrs Duncan Smith to carry out and the only reference to Mrs Duncan Smith relates to additional work that she created for Mrs Watson.

Mrs Duncan Smith's office arrangements

Mrs Duncan Smith states she set up a functional office in Swanbourne 'which was fully equipped'. It is my understanding that the office Mrs Duncan Smith describes was in fact set up in the last months of her employment as demonstrated by the information set out below.

Mrs Duncan Smith did have a computer at home but I understand this was supplied by CCO. I believe this to be the case because I was asked to enquire by Mrs Watson, on behalf of Mrs Duncan Smith, what insurance cover CCO provided for the machine. The constituency laptop, which might have reasonably been used by Mrs Duncan Smith in working from home, remained at the House of Commons principally used at the time of Mrs Duncan Smith's final months of employment by Miss Eyre.

Mrs Duncan Smith had a mobile telephone which was paid for by CCO but the payment of these bills had been the subject of much discussion as it was felt widely by many staff that as no professional role could be attributed to Mrs Duncan Smith the payment of the bill by CCO was questionable. There was never any suggestion that Mrs Duncan Smith carried out parliamentary work on this telephone. Indeed the monthly bills were small and she claimed that the telephone was primarily used by Mr Duncan Smith. Their landline telephone bills were also submitted to CCO for payment but, to my knowledge, no discount was made from those bills for parliamentary work which would have been entirely legitimate. Furthermore, when Mrs Duncan Smith chose to communicate with the office, she tended to do so via a private email address rather than a parliamentary email address.

Mr and Mrs Duncan Smith had embarked on a major programme of refurbishment at their Swanbourne home earlier in 2002. The works were extensive as I understand the house to have been in a serious state of dilapidation. Mr Duncan Smith often commented amusedly of the anti-diluvian telephone connections and electrical work. The refurbishment was so extensive that the family were required to move into a one bedroom flat on their estate. In late 2002, Mr Duncan Smith began to create an office for himself out of the former Estate Office at Swanbourne. In this context, I would ask you to refer to Appendix One (email dated 30th January 2003),[65] the first paragraph of which questions the expenses incurred by the Leader at his home. At no time had the matter regarding the development of an office for Mr Duncan Smith been raised with me or the Chief Executive. No proposal for the works had been submitted, no explanation given, no approval had been sought for the payment for the works with either myself of the Chief Executive. No purchase order had been raised and there was no budget allocation for such expenditure. The issue was not that Mr Duncan Smith should not have these works paid for but that it was clearly very important that financial procedures be carried out appropriately. It was also politically sensitive that, in the midst of a major programme of works at his home, Mr Duncan Smith be perceived to have a very clearly documented paper trail explaining why the works were required. This was the context of my email of 30th January.

These details regarding the installation of an office at his home are further corroborated in the final paragraphs of Appendix 2 (Memo of March 2003 to Sir Stanley Kalms, Treasurer of the Conservative Party, requested by him in order to clarify the unauthorised expenditure which had been brought to his attention).[66] Furthermore, Appendix 2 documents that in January 2003 Mr Duncan Smith arranged for the installation of a series of telephone lines at Swanbourne in the continuing work he was carrying out in the establishment of his office. It should be noted that at the time the memo was written not one of the thirteen telephone lines had been actually been used as no call charges had been incurred.

In fact Mr Duncan Smith goes as far as to say, in his own words, in Appendix 3 (email dated 31st January dictated by Mr Duncan Smith),[67] that he had 'recently converted a room at his home into a fully functional office including an ISDN line.., and additional telephone and fax lines for use when he is working away from Westminster or Central Office... The new office will afford a much more efficient means of communicating with the Leader and it will be able to accommodate a number of people from Central Office if they should need to work with the Leader on site'. It is worth noting that at no time does Mr Duncan Smith refer to the office being used in a parliamentary capacity by him or Mrs Duncan Smith although he is quite specific regarding communication with CCO and how its staff might be deployed. However, all of this work to prepare the office took place at the end of 2002 and after Mrs Duncan Smith had ceased to be employed.

It should also be noted that Mr Duncan Smith's assertion that 'these arrangements and the procedure for the costs incurred had in fact been agreed with Central Office last year, prior to my appointment' is, to my certain knowledge, not the case and can be verified, if required, by the then Chief Executive, Mr Mark MacGregor, and his then Deputy, Mr Stephen Gilbert. This is central to this issue not least because, if the office was to be used for parliamentary work, a range of costs could legitimately have been attributed to Mr Duncan Smith's incidental expense allowance as a Member of Parliament.

Although I have not visited Swanbourne, it is my considered view in light of the above evidence that it is difficult to accept Mr Duncan Smith's assertion that Mrs Duncan Smith was working for him in a parliamentary capacity from a fully functional office at their home.

Issues relating to Mr Duncan Smith's Parliamentary Office Costs Allowance

Another key factor in my consideration of the matter of the employment of Mrs Duncan Smith was Mr Duncan Smith's use of his parliamentary Office Costs Allowance.

I was made aware of a number of issues regarding Mr Duncan Smith's Office Costs Allowance within days of taking up my post as Head of the Leader's Office in August 2002. The issues can be summarised as follows:

·  Mrs Duncan Smith was being paid a salary from the Office Costs Allowance for work that was widely perceived amongst CCO staff not to have been carried out. This carried issues of propriety and political sensitivity with it.

·  Miss Eyre had as of August 2002 ceased to be paid from Mr Duncan Smith's Office Costs Allowance although she had ceased to work as his parliamentary private secretary in September 2001 and was actually working on non-constituency related work from then on.

·  Mrs Watson continued to be paid out of Mr Duncan Smith's Office Costs Allowance until November 2002 although she ceased working for Mr Duncan Smith as his parliamentary private secretary at the end of August 2002.

·  It appeared that potentially mis-leading submissions had been made to the House of Commons Fees Office—a recognition of very poor record keeping with regard to Mr Duncan Smith's Allowances.

Given my understanding of the regulations stipulated by the House of Commons Fees Office regarding Members' allowances and the employment of staff, as well as the Members' Code of Conduct, I regarded these breaches as of critical importance and sought to address them as a matter of urgency.

·  The payment of Mrs Duncan Smith

The matter was first brought to my attention by Mrs Watson in early September 2002 as she sought to appoint a researcher to support Miss Walker in her new role as Mr Duncan Smith's parliamentary private secretary. Mrs Watson advised me that there was simply no money available to employ a researcher because the funds available were fully used. She explained that this was because Mrs Duncan Smith was continuing to be paid a salary. It was evident from the conversation we had that Mrs Watson understood entirely the difficulties we faced with this issue—both in terms of its propriety and political sensitivity. She advised me then that Mrs Duncan Smith was earning £18,000 per annum. It was this figure that was discussed with other senior members of CCO staff and at no time was that figure ever disputed by her, Owen Paterson or any member of Mr Duncan Smith's closest staff

·  The payment of Miss Eyre's salary

In the same conversation, Mrs Watson expressed her concern that Miss Eyre had continued to be paid out of Mr Duncan Smith's parliamentary Office Costs Allowance for some eleven months after she ceased to carry out her role as Mr Duncan Smith's parliamentary private secretary. Mrs Watson recognised that there was simply no manner in which Miss Eyre's salary could be attributed to constituency work, given that Mrs Watson herself had been employed to replace her as Mr Duncan Smith's private secretary. In the best case, it might be possible to argue that Miss Eyre had carried out a very limited role within the Leader's Office. The worst case would be that we did not acknowledge the error and found that Mr Duncan Smith could be reported to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for breaching these rules. These facts are recorded in Appendix 4 (memo from Christine Watson to myself dated 24 October 2002).[68]

·  The payment of Mrs Watson's salary

Mrs Watson, by her own admission, had failed to negotiate in full the terms and conditions of her new post before taking it up. She had been advised by Miss Eyre that Mr Duncan Smith had given her a substantial pay rise to £36,000 per annum and was anxious to seek a larger salary because she believed that the work she was carrying out, including the personal tasks she was performing for Mr Duncan Smith, and the hours she was working merited a greater increase. She asked for a salary of £40,000 per annum.

Given the constraints on the Leader's Office staffing budget at CCO these arrangements were critically important. Miss Eyre had finally been placed onto the Leader's Office Staff by Mr Duncan Smith at an annual salary of £36,000 per annum. However, when Mrs Watson was seeking to raise her salary we were in effect obtaining a second and unexpected member of staff—which we simply did not have the funds to pay for and this resulted in protracted negotiations over the sum. Mrs Watson was very keen to move from the Office Costs Allowance to the CCO budget in order to free up funds from the Allowance to employ both Miss Walker and a researcher. This is again recorded in Appendix 4. The negotiations resulted in Mrs Watson joining the Leader's Office staff in November and Miss Walker, who had by that time, to my knowledge worked for some two months without being paid. The dispute over Mrs Watson's salary was eventually resolved when an agreement was reached to match the £36,000 being paid to Miss Eyre and Mr Duncan Smith agreed to supplement her salary with £4,000 from his Office Costs Allowance—an entirely legitimate payment to reflect the work she was carrying out in a supervisory capacity.

·  Submissions to the House of Commons Fees Office and poor financial record keeping

It also transpired during the month of September that Mrs Watson's predecessor, Miss Eyre, had apparently not paid due diligence to the submissions made to the House of Commons Fees Office on Mr Duncan Smith's behalf. Mrs Watson advised me of her concern that inappropriate submissions may have been made regarding the Accommodation Costs Allowance although I am not in a position to verify whether those concerns were ever justified.

Furthermore, as detailed in Appendix 4, Mrs Watson records that papers were received '(not in any order) from AE' and that she had spoken to me previously about 'this sensitive matter'. She also comments that 'I obviously need to put everything in order on behalf of Iain's representation as Member of Parliament for Chingford and Woodford Green and I intend to do so that everything is in proper financial order—keeping the records in good order, and in financial year order and not in a mess' (sic). Mrs Watson had told me separately that she had been handed the Office Costs Allowance papers in a carrier bag.

In conclusion, I advised Mrs Watson, who had been given responsibility for the handling and administration of Mr Duncan Smith's parliamentary Office Costs Allowance, that she should as a matter of urgency raise the matters regarding her and Miss Eyre's salaries as well as the possible errors in the Accommodation Costs submissions in person with the House of Commons Fees Office in order to seek a mutually agreed way forward. She took that advice and embarked on a series of weekly meetings with staff in the Fees Office, usually on Fridays at lunchtime in an attempt to unscramble these issues. In the meantime, I agreed to raise the matter regarding Mrs Duncan Smith's employment separately. The acceptance of these matters and their sensitivity is acknowledged in Appendix 5 (email from my then Deputy, Miss Rebecca Layton, regarding a number of issues concerning Miss Eyre's performance) when it is commented 'there are also the very sensitive points about the OCA...'.[69]

How the matter regarding Mrs Duncan Smith's employment was dealt with

The chronology of events following my discovery that Mrs Duncan Smith was being paid from Mr Duncan Smith's parliamentary Office Costs Allowance is documented for the record in Appendix 6 (letter from my solicitor, Ms Gill Sage, to The Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP, dated 10th October 2003).[70]

In summary:

·  I raised my concerns about Mrs Duncan Smith's employment within one hour of it being drawn to my attention. I immediately asked to speak to Mr Paterson privately in his office and expressed my concerns—that Mrs Duncan Smith was being paid a salary from Mr Duncan Smith's parliamentary Office Costs Allowance when there did not appear to be a position of office being carried out. I advised him that this was against the regulations of the House and that the matter was also very politically sensitive. Mr Paterson agreed with me immediately and confirmed he would take the matter up with Mr Duncan Smith. It was clear that raising this matter with Mr Duncan Smith would require great sensitivity and it was my professional judgement that Mr Paterson, as his closet and most trusted confidante would be best placed to raise this subject with him. I recommended that he deal with this matter as a matter of priority, preferably before the Conservative Party Conference which commenced on the 7th October 2002. It should be noted that at no time did Mr Paterson indicate that he understood Mrs Duncan Smith to be carrying out an actual role in Mr Duncan Smith's parliamentary office. He did not correct me or, having raised the matter with Mr Duncan Smith, come back to clarify for the record what may have been my mistake.

·  Upon our return from the Party Conference, Mr Paterson had not been able to resolve the matter and I therefore raised the matter with him once again during the week commencing 14th October 2002. He acknowledged once again the need to deal with the matter urgently and I left the matter to him.

·  By early November, no action had been taken so I took the opportunity to raise the matter once again with Mr Paterson, this time in the presence of Mr MacGregor at a meeting to discuss staff salaries. It should be noted that my general concerns regarding the lack of action over the salaries issue is confirmed in Appendix 7 (email dated 4th November 2002).[71] This meeting was held in Mr MacGregor's office which he shared with Mr Gilbert who was also present in the room.

·  By mid November, the complaint against Michael Trend MP had been made public. In my mind, this heightened the need to resolve this issue as a matter of the utmost urgency. I therefore raised the matter again at more than one of the weekly communications meetings chaired by the Chairman, Mrs Theresa May. These meetings were attended by the Chairman, the Chief Executive, the Deputy Chief Executive, the Treasurer, Mr Paterson and myself it was agreed that Mr Paterson would again raise the matter with Mr Duncan Smith as a matter of urgency.

·  It should be noted that, at that meeting, no one questioned my assertion that we were paying Mrs Duncan Smith without her doing any work in return. Indeed, on every occasion that I raised this matter with Mr Paterson, Mrs May and senior members of staff, the only discussion was about how to persuade Mr Duncan Smith to cease the payment rather than what work she might have been doing.

·  In light of the Michael Trend complaint and the subsequent embarrassment this caused the Conservative Party, Mr Duncan Smith finally ceased to pay his wife on the 31st December 2002.

It is very surprising that at no time during the four months in question did the man closest to Mr Duncan Smith, his Parliamentary Private Secretary Owen Paterson, ever reveal an understanding or explanation of the role of Mrs Duncan Smith.

The context of the emails I sent on the 30th and 31st January 2003

The fact that Mrs Duncan Smith had ceased to be paid out of the Office Costs Allowance at the end of 2002 did not alleviate entirely my concerns about the financial arrangements surrounding Mr Duncan Smith's affairs (see the first paragraphs of Appendix 1). It was my firm view that the Leader's Office should have an impeccable record of financial management, controls and records and that transparency in these matters was imperative.

I had been very concerned about the employment of Mrs Duncan Smith and a possible breach of House of Commons regulations. That matter had indeed been resolved but Michael Crick was a well known investigative journalist who had looked very closely into the matter of Mr Duncan Smith's biographical details. I believed instinctively that, in light of Michael Trend's recent difficulties, this was an area which Crick could easily have been led to and an examination of the facts which would not be helpful under any circumstances. In that regard, I was also very concerned about the propriety of the expenses being incurred in Mr Duncan Smith's name and the manner in which they were being presented and dealt with internally.

It was with these considerations in mind that I sent an email, which has been the subject of much selective quotation by the press, on the 30th January 2003 to the Chairman, the Chief Executive and the then newly appointed Director of Communications, Mr Paul Baverstock. I also blind-copied the email to my Deputy, Miss Layton, for her information. What I sought to achieve was clarification of the correct procedures and a meeting had been arranged for the Chairman and the Chief Executive to meet Mr Paterson to discuss these highly sensitive matters.

Not documented in this email but particularly pertinent to this scheduled meeting was the widespread concern that Mr Duncan Smith was not paying for his own personal expenses—which included his lunches, haircuts, food for his own home, a mirror for his flat, his laundry and the purchase of underwear. In November 2002, I had been obliged to present Mr Duncan Smith with a list of expenses which had been incurred on his behalf and paid for, in the first instance, by his staff who were then reimbursed by CCO. I recollect that sum to have been in excess of £400. He always took considerable time to present a cheque—a fact which caused me great concern as I was determined to ensure that we improved financial controls in his office. All of these facts had also already been discussed privately with the Chief Executive and Mr Paterson as well as within the context of the weekly communications meetings.

The other item I raised for discussion with Mr Paterson was an apparently cavalier attitude with which we appeared to be treating our most regular donors—those with private planes who frequently lent them to Mr Duncan Smith if requested. These issues were considered once again to be so sensitive that Mr Paterson was delegated to raise them with the Leader. It was against this background and these on-going concerns that I felt obliged to send my email at all.

With hindsight, the response was perhaps predictable. Although the email had been marked 'high importance and sent to the most senior people at CCO, it was passed to Mr Duncan Smith first thing the next morning. I received a telephone call before leaving for work from Mr Duncan Smith who was extremely agitated and requested that I go to see him. I consulted Mr MacGregor by telephone and placed a call to Mr Baverstock who did not return my call. It transpired that it was Mr Baverstock who had raised the email with Mr Paterson who subsequently passed a copy of the email to Mr Duncan Smith. I eventually saw Mr Duncan Smith at approximately midday on Friday 31st January. After inviting me to sit down he became very angry and expressed his irritation at my raising the subjects in writing in the email. I accepted unreservedly his rebuke for committing the matter to written form but he advised me that he had already instructed the IT Department at CCO to expunge the email from the central server.

Mr Duncan Smith did not ask me for an explanation. He did not ask why I was concerned. Indeed, besides my own apology for having formalised the matter in the form of an email I did not utter another word as Mr Duncan Smith spoke without break. I was so distressed by his manner and conduct that I was reduced to tears in the meeting. He advised me in the strongest terms that I was to send out an immediate response and asked me to bring my own copy of the email into his office for his attention. He then in effect dictated exactly what the email was to say. I did not and could not agree with what he had asked me to write but it was absolutely apparent within the context of the meeting that I had one of two alternatives—I either wrote the email as he had instructed or I could draft my own letter of resignation. I returned immediately to my desk and drafted the response he had instructed. He amended my draft in his own hand to perfect it to his own requirements and instructed me to send it out. See Appendix 8 (copy of draft email including Mr Duncan Smith's own amendments to the text) for reference and Appendix 9 (the final version of the email as instructed by Mr Duncan Smith).[72]

I very much regret not having had the courage to speak out at that time. No alternative arrangements had been established for the management of the Leader's diary in November and, as far as I was aware, no apparent alternatives had been implemented in the Leader's constituency office to cover the functions Betsy Duncan Smith had been carrying out 'on a daily basis'. With respect, the improvement to the diary had occurred because of the strong working relationship I had established with both Andrew Whitby-Collins (whom I had known for two years) and the diary secretary I had appointed—Paula Malone. Under no circumstances, in the context of my email and my previously repeated concerns, could I accept that I was 'entirely satisfied that these issues have been dealt with correctly and in full'.

Mr MacGregor can testify to the immediate concerns I raised about the second email and indeed Mr Gilbert may be in a position to support these facts. Mrs Watson and Miss Layton can also attest to the distressed state I was in at the end of my meeting with Mr Duncan Smith.

The events leading up the presentation of the complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards by Mr Michael Crick and the presentation of the dossier by Mr Duncan Smith

I feel it is important to include a section on the events leading up to the start of this inquiry for two reasons:

·  They will indicate why I have been obliged to take a principled and what has now regretfully become a public stand on this matter

·  The facts regarding the handling of this case will reveal a catalogue of misinformation on the part of Mr Duncan Smith which may have a bearing on the approach taken in regard to the evidence he has submitted, as well as proving his determination to place me under pressure in order that I support his statement on this matter.

Rumours began to circulate at CCO that Michael Crick was investigating the matter of the employment of Mrs Duncan Smith the week prior to the Conservative Party Conference (w/c 29th September) and that questions had been presented to Mr Duncan Smith regarding the employment of his wife. Mr Duncan Smith was, by all accounts, very agitated by the prospect of this broadcast. I had been telephoned at home by Mr Crick on the evening of Monday 29th September and I reported the call to the CCO media office first thing on the morning of Tuesday 30th September.

Later that morning, I had a telephone conversation with the Director of Communications, Paul Baverstock, and a chance meeting with Tim Montgomerie, who had succeeded me as Political Secretary to the Leader, who were both very preoccupied with the matter. Both were very anxious about my emails, particularly as they did not have a copy of the second email.

·  The first conversation with Mr Duncan Smith regarding a statement by me in support of his position

I was telephoned again on the morning of the 1st October by Paul Baverstock regarding this matter and then by Tim Montgomerie who asked me to attend a meeting with Mr Duncan Smith in his office at 1.00pm. I naturally agreed and met with Mr Duncan Smith. Mr Montgomene was in attendance. Mr Duncan Smith was formal but not aggressive in his manner and explained what was happening. He confirmed that he had placed the matter in the hands of a renowned libel lawyer, Mr David Hooper, of Reynolds Porter Chamberlain and indicated that he had given instruction for the strongest response to be issued—that he would sue any organisation that repeated the allegations in public. Mr Duncan Smith advised me at that meeting that he would certainly take legal action under those circumstances and that, if that were the case, I would be required to give a statement under oath. He advised me that the content of the statement would be to verify I had raised the question of the employment of his wife with him and that I was 'entirely satisfied' that the arrangements and circumstances surrounding his wife's employment had been correct. I immediately knew that I would not be in a position to support his version of events and that, in the event that the matter were to go to court, I would not be able to testify to those facts. However, I hoped that the matter might not end in this way and chose to remain silent.

·  The second conversation with Mr Duncan Smith regarding a statement by me in support of his position

I was telephoned by Mrs Watson at 4.30pm on the afternoon of Friday 3rd October and advised that Mr Duncan Smith wished to speak to me. This call was to my mobile telephone for which a record can be obtained. In the moments before Mr Duncan Smith was able to come to the telephone, I had a brief conversation with Mrs Watson and she advised me that Mr Duncan Smith's lawyers were about to arrive to speak to her. I asked her if, under the circumstances, she had taken legal advice. Mr Duncan Smith then came to the telephone and asked me where I was. I replied that I was, by arrangement in Cheltenham. He appeared disappointed that I was not in London because his lawyer was visiting the office but said it could wait. He then asked me a number of questions appertaining to my emails and appeared very concerned by the prospect that Mr Crick might have a copy of one or both of them. He then repeated his threat to take legal action in the event that the allegations were published and that, in those circumstances, I would be required to give a statement under oath. I became increasingly uncomfortable with his stance and neither agreed nor disagreed. He then said he had just spoken to Mr Paterson who had confirmed to him that the first thing he knew of these concerns was when my email of 30th January had originally been sent. I interrupted Mr Duncan Smith mid-sentence and told him I felt duty-bound to advise him that Mr Paterson was mistaken in his version of events and that I had raised the matter with Mr Paterson on a number of occasions in the preceding months. He did not disagree.

·  Third and fourth conversations with Mr Duncan Smith regarding a statement by me in support of my position

I travelled to Blackpool on Saturday 4th October. I watched Mr Duncan Smith on the 'Frost' Programme on Sunday 5th October and was deeply concerned to hear him describe the allegations as 'false lies' and repeat his threat to sue any organisation that published or broadcast these allegations. However, it was already the case that the Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph and particularly the Independent on Sunday had run perilously close to revealing exactly what those allegations were. My concerns were further compounded when I received a visit from the Private Secretary to the Chairman in my room at the Imperial Hotel at 11.30am indicating that the Chairman had asked me to make myself available to speak to Mr Duncan Smith on the telephone between 1.00 and 2.00pm. He had previously asked if it would be possible for me to be driven to meet him at Manchester Airport so that he could speak to me in private on the way back to Blackpool but that had proved to be impossible. I telephoned the Chairman because I was concerned about what Mr Duncan Smith was going to ask for. She indicated that it was to discuss the media handling of the story and advised me that I was to be 'pulled' from a previously arranged appearance on the live broadcast of the BBC 'Politics Show' the following day, Monday 6th October, because of the controversy surrounding my role in writing the email of the 30th January.

I spoke to Mr Duncan Smith twice that afternoon, the first time at 1.20pm when Mr Duncan Smith did indeed discuss media handling and told me not to worry. I felt heartened at his response. However, that relief was dispelled as, at around 2.00pm, I received a second telephone call from Mr Duncan Smith in which he enthusiastically told me that he wanted me to issue a statement through the press along the lines he had indicated I should give under oath. I neither agreed or refused his request in order to give myself some time to think. To move away from the subject, I therefore told him I would consult the Head of Media, Mr Nick Wood, to discuss the matter further. Mr Duncan Smith said he would speak to Mr Wood immediately and ask him to prepare a form of statement.

Subsequent events

I rang Mr Wood immediately myself and told him that under no circumstances could any statement or form of words be issued in my name without consultation with me and my direct approval. I advised him I was returning to the Hotel and would meet him there at 3.00pm. I was now extremely concerned and immediately consulted my line manager Stephen Gilbert. We had spoken often about our concerns over the line that Mr Duncan Smith had chosen to adopt. His statements revealed that we both appeared to be of the same view that the substance of the allegations were more likely than not to be true. We had also both heard that Mr Duncan Smith's lawyers had made some inaccurate statements regarding Mr Duncan Smith's role in the matter, which we knew categorically to be untrue—namely that Mr Duncan Smith had not been advised of the concerns prior to the correspondence from the BBC at the end of September 2003.

We were increasingly of the view that Mr Duncan Smith's approach would in effect do nothing more than to fuel the interest of journalists and that the allegations would eventually be printed or broadcast. If Mr Duncan Smith stood by his word to take legal action, we would be placed in a very difficult position. We agreed that neither of us would be prepared to perjure ourselves to protect the Leader for the Conservative Party—a position also agreed by Paul Baverstock who expressed some bewilderment at the line adopted by Mr Duncan Smith.

As soon as I advised him of Mr Duncan Smith's attempt to make me issue a statement; he immediately offered to have an off-the-cuff conversation with Mr Wood to ascertain where he thought the matter might be heading. He did so and was able to reassure me that it was Mr Wood's view that my issuing a statement that day might provoke a greater interest in the story and that we would leave the matter of the statement in abeyance for the moment. He said he would return to it if he thought it expedient to Mr Duncan Smith's position. He advised me not to attend functions in the presence of the media.

At the end of that conversation, Stephen Gilbert and I both agreed it was now imperative that we have a private meeting with the Chairman to air our concerns and to request that we be given permission to seek independent legal advice. It was scheduled for approximately 10.00pm. The first editions of the newspapers came out and brought very bad headlines for Mr Duncan Smith. Although the Chairman was now running late it became apparent that the request for the meeting was now more urgent than ever as the more comments Mr Duncan Smith made to the newspapers, the more I became clear in my own mind that I would not be able to support his position. In the event, the meeting between the Chairman, Stephen Gilbert and I was held at 2.00am on Monday 6th October in the presence of Mr Philip May, Mrs May's husband, in their suite at the Imperial Hotel.

At that meeting, I expressed my concerns and said I felt I was being pressurised to make a statement supporting Mr Duncan Smith. I recognised I was in a pivotal position because I was the author of the original email which had been leaked but I simply could not support Mr Duncan Smith's version of events regarding the employment of his wife. I said I was advising Mrs May of my position privately in the hope that some way might be found of making Mr Duncan Smith understand that his stand was potentially dangerous as he would not be able to rely on my statements to support him in the way he was hoping. To do anything else could result in my in effect committing an act of perjury before the Court as far as I was concerned. Stephen Gilbert agreed that this account of the facts was indeed correct and added that he too felt very uncomfortable about Mr Duncan Smith's chosen stance because he believed the substance of the allegations to be true. He then raised the question of independent legal advice. The Chairman agreed that we could both seek such advice and commented that no-one should do or say anything which forced them to compromise their integrity or that was not the truth. The meeting then concluded at approximately 2.25am. From a conversation between the Chairman and I held at 6.30pm on Friday 10 October, I now know that the Chairman reported our concerns back to Mr Duncan Smith.

On Tuesday 7th October an unauthorised article about me appeared in The Independent newspaper which had clearly been briefed. The article indicated that Mr Duncan Smith had sought to dismiss me from my post earlier in the summer and that I had sought legal advice at that time. I telephoned the Head of Media, Mr Wood, to report my concerns about the publication of this story but he advised me he had much more important issues to deal with. As a result of the story I was contacted by the Gloucestershire Echo which had picked up the story so I sought advice from the Deputy Director of Communications, Mr Richard Chalk, as to what line I should take. He promised to come back to me with a response but never did. No one from the Leader's Office bothered to contact me to reassure me that there was no substance to the story or that it had not been briefed by them.

That evening, James Gray MP approached me to advise me that Owen Paterson had been briefing other MPs against me, questioning my integrity and loyalty to the Leader. I was extremely upset by these revelations. This information was brought back to me by other sources, and I was told that Mr Wood and the Leader's Press Officer had been raising questions about my loyalty amongst delegates at the Conference. I was very concerned by what I had heard and called Tim Montgomerie first thing on Wednesday morning to express my concern and to request an urgent meeting with him and Mr Paterson to discuss the matter. Mr Montgomerie eventually came back to me at approximately 7.30pm that evening to say that Mr Paterson had denied briefing against me and that a meeting would not be possible until Monday 13th October. He did however sound sympathetic. I had also repeatedly sought an appointment with the Chairman to discuss my growing concerns but from Tuesday through to the end of the Conference she was unavailable to meet with me. It was when the Chairman, who had previously always found time for me when I asked for it, was unable to see me that I realised that matters were rapidly deteriorating. My concern was that my decision to state openly that I was feeling pressurised by Mr Duncan Smith's desire for a statement and my disagreement with his version of events were placing my position within CCO and potentially my candidacy at risk. I returned to London on Thursday afternoon and, as had been agreed in my meeting with the Chairman and Stephen Gilbert, I immediately made an appointment to meet with my lawyer, Gill Sage of Healy's Solicitors, London at 10.30am on Friday morning.

·  Legal advice and Mr Duncan Smith

Having recounted the facts and discussed the matter in full, I accepted my lawyer's advice that it was critically important that I state to Mr Duncan Smith for the record the concerns I had raised with the Chairman, setting out the chronology of events in relation to the employment of his wife, and letting him know that I could not support his request for a statement along the lines that he had indicated, for to do so could in effect be perjury before the Court. The purpose of the letter was to formally indicate my position to Mr Duncan Smith in the hope that the matter might be resolved internally while protecting my position as an employee and prospective parliamentary candidate in the event that further moves were being made against me. The letter was sent to Mr Duncan Smith by my lawyer at 3.00pm. She received a response from Mr Hooper by telephone at 5.25pm.

At 6.30pm, I received a telephone call from the Chairman who was extremely agitated that I had sent the letter although she advised me she had not actually seen the text. She had been asked to ask me to retract the letter prior to a meeting with Mr Duncan Smith the following week. I made a verbatim note of the conversation in which she told she I should 'bite my tongue' and that she felt 'personally let down' by the action I had taken. She advised me I might 'end up without a job' and that my action 'might threaten my candidacy'. She said that 'the whole pack of cards might come tumbling down'. She added that, although she had agreed to my taking legal advice, she had not expected me 'to act upon it'. I advised her that I did not believe a meeting with Mr Duncan Smith would resolve my concerns as they stood and asked her why telling the truth should result in my potentially losing my job and my political career. She followed this with a second telephone conversation some fifteen minutes later and asked me again to retract the letter. I said I would consult my lawyer and would consider her request.

My lawyer received an initial substantive reply from Mr Hooper (see Appendix 10) by email at 00.12 that evening.[73] The threats to sue me, my lawyer and her firm if I did not retract my lawyer's letters are self-evident as is the menacing tone to the letter.

I decided I would not retract the letter as I believed it to be truthful in all respects and because it now afforded me great security under increasing pressure from Mr Duncan Smith's threats. As a gesture of goodwill I offered to retract the clause as indicated in the square brackets of Appendix 6 This was subsequently refused by Mr Hooper and my lawyer was advised at 1.00pm that only a full retraction would suffice or alternatively legal action would be taken against me, my lawyer and her firm.

In the light of these threats of legal action being brought against me I sought advice from a barrister specialising in libel law and explained the details of the case and read out my letter to her. Her advice was that there would be no libel case to answer in a court of law. It was this advice that determined my position not to withdraw my letter. My lawyer communicated my instruction by telephone. The pressure increased as it became evident that the Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph were intending to publish details of the allegations against Mr Duncan Smith's wife. Two other telephone conversations followed between the lawyers but I did not retract my letter. It is important to note that during this very busy day, I received five telephone calls from the Chairman, which I refused to take, and four from Stephen Gilbert. In the meantime, the Sunday Telegraph had planted a reporter outside my home and I received in the region of some 15 telephone calls from current and former colleagues who had been telephoned by the Sunday Telegraph asking questions about my performance as a politician and my integrity. This particular development only served to compound my concern that certain people within CCO had developed a specific strategy to undermine me in the run up to the publication of the allegations and as a potential witness.

On Sunday 12th October, after the newspapers had run their stories, I was telephoned by Stephen Gilbert at approximately 2.35pm and invited to attend a meeting with the Chairman the following day, Monday 13th October. I asked if I should bring my lawyer and whether the meeting in any shape constituted a disciplinary hearing. I was advised that it did not and that it would not be necessary to bring my lawyer although I could do so if I wished. He suggested that the meeting was to engage in constructive dialogue about how we could move forward. However, I received a telephone call from my lawyer some fifteen minutes later to be advised that the Chairman had issued a statement stating that I was being summoned to a meeting to give a full account of my actions. Given the conversation I had had a matter of minutes before, the tone of the statement upset me greatly. I telephoned Stephen Gilbert who seemed genuinely surprised and spoke to the Chairman who claimed that these were 'not her words'. Nonetheless, this statement generated enormous press interest for 24 hours and resulted in television cameras and reporters being stationed outside my office, following my movements on a continuing basis since Monday morning.

It was therefore with great concern that I heard Mr Duncan Smith make statements that I believe were less than accurate on the evening of Tuesday 14th October. First, during his interview with Adam Boulton on SKY television he stated that he 'did not ask me to give a statement'. (See Appendix 11 for a transcript).[74] Second, on Channel 4 with Elinor Goodman he stated that he had 'thanked me for raising' this issue and then went on to say 'I have not asked her to support me in regard to the submissions to Sir Philip and I am still not asking her' (see Appendix 12 for a transcript).[75] Third, when asked by ITN reporters on the evening news whether any member of staff had been threatened with legal action, he replied 'That's rubbish'. As you will appreciate from the information above, it is my contention that none of these statements were factually accurate.

Based on the facts available to me and despite all the pressure that has been applied to me in the past week I am still unable to support Mr Duncan Smith's position over the employment of his wife.

Conclusion

This document has aimed to provide as detailed an account as I am able to give on the matters relevant to your inquiry. I have explained the structure of both offices and the roles performed by the individuals within them. I have described my role as Head of the Leader's Office and the integration of the two offices including their necessarily close working practices. I have also explained the extent to which pressure has been applied over the past weeks in an attempt to get me to support publicly Mr Duncan Smith's position.

Based on my previous experience of having run two parliamentary constituency offices over nearly four years, it is my view that it would have been virtually impossible for Mrs Duncan Smith to have undertaken significant amounts of work without having had regular contact with me, particularly given my overall responsibility for the management of the diary.

I do not contend that Mrs Duncan Smith could not have performed certain tasks for Mr Duncan Smith but rather that I saw absolutely no evidence of the work carried out by her.

Given my responsibilities as Head of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, the close working proximity of the parliamentary and Leader's Offices, and the regular and continuous contact between the staff members concerned (as detailed above), it is difficult to see, by analysing the distribution of tasks and responsibilities within the two offices, what work Mrs Duncan Smith effectively carried out. Furthermore, if Mrs Duncan Smith had been working in excess of 25 hours a week I cannot see how that, given my role, I would not have seen repeated and significant evidence of her work in the form of emails, telephone calls and letters either directly or indirectly. There was no evidence, that I saw, indicating that she had any significant involvement in the diary, correspondence or financial management in the constituency office.

Moreover, from August to December 2002, whenever I raised the issue of Mrs Duncan Smith, not one person ever questioned or contradicted my assertion that she was being paid without appearing to do any work. Critically, these people included Owen Paterson and Christine Watson, both of whom would, had Mrs Duncan Smith worked for over 25 hours a week, certainly have been aware of the extent of her work and would surely have indicated to me that my concerns were unfounded. The memo to me from Christine Watson (see Appendix 4) is important in that it shows the extent of the work being carried out by her and leaves little if any role for Mrs Duncan Smith. Indeed, the first time I ever heard that Mrs Duncan Smith worked in excess of 25 hours a week was in the statement issued by Mr Duncan Smith on Monday 13th October 2003.

The information as detailed above reveals the facts as I understand them and demonstrates why I felt unable to publicly state that I was entirely satisfied with the arrangements regarding Mr Duncan Smith's assertion that his wife, Betsy, carried out a position of significant parliamentary work. All the subsequent actions of Mr Duncan Smith and those around him in applying pressure to me have merely confirmed my view.

It remains my conclusion that the press allegations made regarding the employment of Mrs Duncan Smith are significantly more likely to be true than not.

16 October 2003


65   See PCS Written Submission 46. Back

66   Not appended by the Commissioner. Back

67   Not appended by the Commissioner. Back

68   See PCS Written Submission 49. Back

69   Not appended by theCommissioner. Back

70   Not appended by the Commissioner. Back

71   Not appended bythe Commissioner. Back

72   See PCS Written Submission 47 and 48. Back

73   Not appended by the Commissioner. Back

74   Not appended by the Commissioner. Back

75   Not appended by the Commissioner. Back


 
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