Downing Street has declined to say it stands by Conservative London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey after he was accused of politicising the disappearance of Sarah Everard.
Mr Bailey has faced criticism after he said his wife and daughter “have to live in fear” in the capital but vowed to work to “deliver for the safety of women and girls” if he wins in May.
Liberal Democrat rival Luisa Porritt called the comments “utterly grotesque” following the disappearance of 33-year-old Ms Everard, while Labour MP Catherine West said: “This is really not the time for cheap, political point scoring.”
During a Westminster briefing, Number 10 was asked numerous times if Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood by his party’s mayoral candidate.
The Prime Minister’s press secretary Allegra Stratton said: “You have heard from the Prime Minister this morning, expressing real shock and distress at what’s happened.
“This is a conversation to have with Shaun Bailey. You have seen the Prime Minister’s approach today and you have seen the Home Secretary’s approach today.”
Pressed further, Ms Stratton said: “Today, we believe, is a day to give sympathy to the family of Sarah in an incredibly difficult and distressing time for them.”
Downing Street appeared to distance itself from Mr Bailey after business minister Paul Scully said the mayoral candidate could “absolutely” still run for office.
Asked if Mr Bailey had used the case as “political capital”, the minister told Sky News: “Shaun Bailey has a plan for London in terms of giving the leadership on crime, on housing, on transport and air quality.
“The first thing people want to be is safe in their homes and Shaun has been doing a lot of work around (that).
“But we shouldn’t be distracted from the fact that there is a serious crime that’s gone on here.”
Mr Scully, who is also minister for London, added the Government was “absolutely” doing enough to keep women safe and was addressing domestic violence.
He was speaking after the arrest of a serving Metropolitan Police officer in connection with the Everard case but before Scotland Yard said he was being held on suspicion of murder.
The mayoral candidate said on Twitter: “As a father and husband it breaks me to think that my wife and daughter have to live in fear in their own city.
“It doesn’t have to be this way.
“As mayor, I‘ll ensure that we are working to deliver for the safety of women and girls in London.”
Ms Everard is thought to have walked through Clapham Common towards her house in Brixton – a journey which should have taken around 50 minutes.
She was last captured on a doorbell camera walking along the A205 Poynders Road towards Tulse Hill at around 9.30pm on March 3.
The Met said on Wednesday night that remains had been found in an area of woodland in Ashford, Kent, by detectives investigating her disappearance.
An officer in the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command had earlier been arrested on suspicion of Ms Everard’s kidnap and murder.