Tory MPs who wrote to judges during Charlie Elphicke sexual assault trial under investigation

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Natalie Elphicke - Dominic Lipinski /PA 
Natalie Elphicke - Dominic Lipinski /PA

Five Conservative MPs who used Commons stationery to lobby judges over a former colleague's sexual assault case are being investigated by Parliament’s "sleaze" watchdog.

Natalie Elphicke, the MP for Dover, signed a letter to the president of the Queen’s Bench Division and the senior presiding judge for England and Wales concerning a character reference constituents provided for her former husband, Charlie Elphicke. He was later found guilty of three counts of sexual assault against two women and sentenced to two years imprisonment last July.

Along with fellow Tories Roger Gale, Adam Holloway, Bob Stewart and Theresa Villiers – who all penned supporting letters for Elphicke – Ms Elphicke tried to block an attempt by various newspapers to publish the contents of the references, arguing it would deter others from providing similar background details in future cases.

All five are now facing a probe by Kathryn Stone, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, over two alleged breaches of the MPs' Code of Conduct, concerning the "use of facilities [stationery] provided from the public purse" and "actions causing significant damage to the reputation of the House as a whole, or of its Members generally".

Boris Johnson was among a total of nine MPs "named and shamed" as being under investigation on Monday over a £15,000 holiday he took to Mustique with his fiancée Carrie Symonds in December 2019.

Also under investigation are Claudia Webbe, the Labour MP Leicester East who was suspended from the party last September after being charged with harassment, Jonathan Gullis, the Tory MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, and former environment secretary Owen Paterson, the Tory MP for North Shropshire.

Previously the commissioner was not permitted to reveal MPs’ names, but the rules changed last month following a Commons vote.

In serious cases Ms Stone can submit a formal report to the Select Committee on Standards for them to consider a sanction such as a suspension from Parliament.

Concerns have previously been raised about the length of investigations and lack of transparency.

Former minister David Davis said: "If you are going to have a naming and shaming process like this that can be weaponised for political purposes then it should be anonymised until you get to a conclusion because the MP is unable to respond to the allegations."