A young Westminster worker, who made allegations of sexual assault against an MP, was worried she would never get another job in parliament if she made a formal complaint, a former Tory whip has told a court.
Speaking at the trial of the former MP Charlie Elphicke, who is accused of three counts of sexual assault, ex-MP Anne Milton said the woman was “acutely aware that if she made a formal complaint she would never get another job in parliament because of gossip”.
The jury also heard a recording of the first meeting Elphicke had with senior Conservative whips about allegations of misconduct, where he denied them as they were put to him and said: “Absolutely not. I need my lawyer.”
The meeting took place in 2016 with the then Conservative chief whip, Julian Smith, and Milton, the then deputy chief whip, who told Southwark crown court that the young woman was “distressed and distraught” when she met her.
“She was very upset because it had taken her a long time to come forward with this. I got the impression [that] when you don’t tell anyone else, you don’t have to admit that it is the case. Once she had spoken to somebody, all the distress and anxiety she had felt was whirlwind for her.”
Elphicke, who represented the Kent constituency of Dover and Deal from 2010 until last year, denies three counts of sexual assault, twice against the young parliamentary worker and on one occasion against a woman at his family’s central London home in 2007.
He lost the Tory whip in 2017 when the allegations were referred to the police but was reinstated in December 2018 before a vote of confidence in the then prime minister, Theresa May.
Milton said that she had first been approached by another Tory MP at the time, Margot James, and subsequently met the young parliamentary worker after exchanging texts.
“She was very distraught, very upset, very tearful and said that she had been the victim of unwanted sexual attention, and she went through a number of things,” she told the court.
A recording of the first two meetings which Elphicke had with Milton, Smith and others was played, in which Milton can be heard saying that he has had some “serious allegations” concerning sexual misconduct and harassment and inappropriate behaviour. Elphicke could be heard exclaiming : “Really?”
Milton could then be heard listing a number of allegations, asking him if he had ever tried to kiss the woman, hold her hand or touch her breast, to which he replied “no” in each case.
“This is the first time that anything like this allegation was put to me. I am shocked at this,” he added.
At one point, when the allegations were raised, Elphicke responded by saying that it had been six months ago and, if they were true, a complaint would have been made at the time. “Well, Charlie, it doesn’t matter when it happened,” Milton told him.
A subsequent meeting with Milton and Smith took place two weeks later, the court heard, at which Elphick was accompanied by another serving MP at the time, former attorney general Dominic Grieve.
Describing her role as whip, Milton told the court that it was to get the government’s business through the house of commons, but she also felt that it was important to “look after MPs” from a pastoral viewpoint “even though there is not much public sympathy for them”.
This pastoral care did not formally extent to employees of MPs, who she said had traditionally had “fairly poor representation”.