Conservative MP gives evidence in former aide's rape trial

Jamie Grierson
Craig Mackinlay said ‘I don’t know about that’ when asked if the defendant hero-worshipped him. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

The Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay has appeared in court as a witness in the trial of his former chief of staff for rape.

Sam Armstrong, 24, is alleged to have raped and sexually assaulted the woman in his boss’s office within the Houses of Parliament after a night of drinking, Southwark crown court has heard.

Under cross-examination by Armstrong’s barrister, Mackinlay told the court his former employee was “very driven on politics”.

Standing in the witness box, dressed in a grey suit, Mackinlay, the MP for South Thanet, said: “He worked long hours, perhaps more dedicated than other staff. He was in a different league in terms of his reliability.”

Sarah Forshaw QC for the defence asked Mackinlay if Armstrong “hero-worshipped” him.

“I don’t know about that,” replied Mackinlay.

Samuel Armstrong. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

Armstrong would visit Mackinlay and his wife in their constituency home, where his wife would make comments about setting up Armstrong with her nieces, the court heard.

Mackinlay said Armstrong had been appointed as his chief of staff in April last year. He had been working in his office on an unpaid basis since February of that year and Mackinlay had known him for up to a year before that.

“He was recommended to me by various people within the party. I had known Sam through various work for the party for probably a year before,” Mackinlay told jurors.

“When his university course came to an end – he finished his degree – I formalised that with a full-time position.”

The court has heard that Armstrong and the woman had been drinking in the Sports and Social bar in the Houses of Parliament and, at one point in the night, Armstrong took her to the roof garden terrace so she could hear Big Ben chime.

Later, the jury heard, they went with two other people to the Lords’ offices, before Armstrong and the woman headed alone to Mackinlay’s office.

Once inside Mackinlay’s office, “it began to go wrong”, the jury has heard. The defendant is alleged by the prosecution to have taken “gross advantage of the situation and of her obvious and open friendliness towards him”.

The jury has heard that the woman ran through the corridors of Westminster following the alleged attack before asking a cleaner to call police.

Armstrong, from Danbury, Essex, denies two charges of rape, one of assault by penetration and one of sexual assault on 14 October 2016.

The case continues.