Tories were told Mark Menzies claims ‘constituted fraud’, says whistleblower

Tories were told Mark Menzies claims ‘constituted fraud’, says whistleblower

Lawyers told the Conservative Party that MP Mark Menzies’ alleged misuse of campaign funds may have constituted fraud, but there was no duty to report it, a whistleblower has claimed.

The Fylde MP lost the Conservative whip and was suspended as one of Rishi Sunak’s trade envoys after The Times published claims that he used political donations to cover medical expenses and pay off “bad people” who had locked him in a flat and demanded thousands of pounds for his release.

Mr Menzies disputes the allegations and the party said it had been looking into the claims for “several months” and took them seriously.

Lancashire police are “reviewing the available information” after receiving a letter from Labour chairwoman Anneliese Dodds regarding the case.

Anneliese Dodds
Anneliese Dodds (Maja Smiejkowska/PA)

On Friday, the whistleblower at the centre of the case – Mr Menzies’ former campaign manager Katie Fieldhouse – told The Times a senior Tory official said the party had received legal advice that suggested the allegations amounted to fraud.

She said: “He told me on the phone, ‘the solicitor said it is fraud but you are not duty-bound to report it because it’s not Conservative Party money’.”

Labour said the Tories “sat on their hands” for more than three months after finding out about the claims, while the Liberal Democrats called for the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on ministers’ interests to investigate the handling of the row.

Ms Dodds said the Prime Minister and Chief Whip should “come out of hiding” and explain what advice they had received.

She said: “If, as reported, they or Conservative officials were warned about potentially fraudulent activity and chose not to go to the police, this would be indefensible.”

Ms Fieldhouse, who allegedly received a late-night phone call from Mr Menzies asking for cash, has said she felt “let down” by the party after she raised concerns with chief whip Simon Hart.

Mr Menzies is said to have called 78-year-old Ms Fieldhouse at 3.15am one day in December, claiming he was locked in a flat and needed £5,000 as a matter of “life and death”.

The sum, which rose to £6,500, was eventually paid by his office manager from her personal bank account and subsequently reimbursed from funds raised from donors in an account named Fylde Westminster Group, it is alleged.

The Times also reported that £14,000 given by donors for Tory campaign activities was transferred to Mr Menzies’ personal bank accounts and used for private medical expenses.

Ms Fieldhouse said she became frustrated with the way the Conservative Party handled her complaint after she reported her concerns to Mr Hart in January.

“I put my faith completely in the party… nothing happened – I heard nothing… I am appalled,” she told the BBC.

“I work myself into the ground for the party – all they hear is a 78-year-old little old lady.

“The party has let me down.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said Mr Sunak’s independent ethics adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus, should look into the handling of the row.

He told the PA news agency: “It appears that the chief whip Simon Hart knew a lot about this and failed to take action, and if you look at the Ministerial Code, it requires him to do that.

“And so the Conservatives have really failed. And therefore, I think there is a role and job for the ethics adviser to investigate.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told broadcasters: “In the last 24 hours we have found out that the Government was told months ago about this, and they seem to have sat on their hands.

“If they thought they could sweep this under the carpet somehow, they were obviously very mistaken and that is why I think there are very serious questions now that need to be answered.

“Not just by the individual but also by the Government on this.”

Mr Sunak declined to say whether Mr Menzies should quit as Fylde MP.

The Prime Minister told reporters after a speech in London on Friday: “It’s right that Mark Menzies has resigned the Conservative whip.

“He’s been suspended from his position as a trade envoy whilst the investigations into those allegations continue.

“For our part, I can’t comment on our ongoing investigation while it’s happening, and he’s no longer a Conservative MP, as I said.”

In a statement to The Times, Mr Menzies said: “I strongly dispute the allegations put to me. I have fully complied with all the rules for declarations. As there is an investigation ongoing, I will not be commenting further.”

A Conservative spokesman said: “The party is conducting an investigation into the claims made and has been doing so for several months.

“We will of course share any information with the police if they believe it would be helpful to any investigation they decide to undertake.

“Suggestions the party has not been seriously examining this matter are demonstrably false.”