3. Commissioner's note of meeting
with Mr Iain Duncan Smith on 13 October 2003|
1. This record is based on notes I took at the
time of my meeting in the early evening of 13 October 2003 with
the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP, following the submission of a
complaint against him by Mr Michael Crick. The meeting took place
at the request of Mr Duncan Smith. Also present were Mrs Duncan
Smith, Mr Tim Montgomerie (Mr Iain Duncan Smith's Political Secretary)
and Ms Isobel Griffiths of Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (Mr Iain
Duncan Smith's solicitors). Ms Griffiths took a note of the meeting
of which I have been promised a copy but which, to date, I have
2. Most of the meeting consisted of Mr Duncan
Smith (who was clearly very angry about the allegations made against
him) giving me his account of the circumstances relating to the
complaint as he saw them.
3. Mr Duncan Smith described the complaint as
a "nonsense" and "malicious". His wife had
worked for him as a member of his constituency staff since 1992-3.
She had had a contract since 1997, which had been lodged with
the Fees Office. Her title had been that of diary secretary but
her responsibilities had gone wider than had been indicated, either
in the complaint or in reports of it in the press. Mrs Duncan
Smith was an experienced PA, having previously worked in that
role on a free-lance basis.
4. When Mr Duncan Smith had become Leader of
the Party in September 2001 he had not inherited a functioning
office from his predecessor. The new role had involved a huge
change. He had continued to employ his wife for reasons of continuity.
There had been many staff changes and in August 2001, he and his
wife had moved home from Fulham to Swanbourne in Buckinghamshire.
His wife had set up a functioning office there, from which she
had then worked.
5. Mr Duncan Smith said that although he had
been served by a full time diary secretary in his office from
September 2001, he had been concerned about gaps which he perceived
in the administration of his office. The period between September
2001 and July/August 2002 had been one of huge pressure. He would
speak to his wife in the evenings and at weekends, and she had
functioned as a kind of progress chaser, holding the various aspects
of his life together. The three other members of his staff with
whom his wife had particularly worked (Annabelle Eyre (AE), Andrew
Whitby-Collins (AW-C) and Christine Watson (CW)) would testify
to this. His wife had also helped him go through the diary and
correspondence, as well as doing some work on her own.
6. In August 2002, his Chief of Staff had left.
He had asked his then Private Secretary (AE) to take on the organisation
of his tours as Leader. CW had moved over to become his Private
Secretary (having previously been his constituency secretary)
and a successor to her had been taken on, initially on 3 months
probation. A new Diary Secretary had also been employed at around
the same time.
7. Mrs Duncan Smith had asked to stand down from
her role some time after her husband had become Leader. Mr Duncan
Smith had not welcomed this (his wife had served him well and
he would have liked her to continue her role) but accepted it.
They had both expected a 6 month transition but the other changes
in the Leader's office arrangements meant that this period had
been prolonged. Mrs Duncan Smith had in the event stood down on
31 December 2002.
8. Mr Duncan Smith stressed that during this
period, his wife's principal dealings as a member of his staff
had been with AE, AW-C and CW, in addition to himself. No one
from Conservative Central Office (CCO) had expressed any concern
to him about his employment of his wife before December 2002,
although Owen Paterson (his PPS) had mentioned the matter to him
in the autumn of that year. Dr Gearson had not spoken to him,
nor had anyone approached AE, AW-C or CW.
9. Mr Duncan Smith said that it had been reported
in the media that Mrs Duncan Smith had earned £18,000pa.
In fact her salary had been around £15,000pa. No one in the
CCO had known of her contract or her salary level and no one had
asked for details of them. The rules surrounding the use of Short
money in any case made it difficult, in his view, to discuss these
matters easily with CCO.
10. As to the substance of Mrs Duncan Smith's
work, the dossier of evidence which he and his legal advisers
had prepared included copies of e-mails exchanged with his wife
and of a piece of work concerning the Royal College of Surgeons
in which she had been involved.
11. Mr Duncan Smith went on to express his concern
about the circumstances and manner in which the complaint against
him had emerged. Mr Crick's interest in various aspects of his
life went back a long time. For example, Mr Crick had questioned
whether he was receiving rent on the house he owned in Chingford,
which he should have registered. In fact, he was receiving none.
Mr Crick had represented Mr Radford (Mr Duncan Smith's agent)
as confirming that Mrs Duncan Smith had had no role working for
her husband since he had become Leader, whereas it was clear that
Mr Radford's remarks related to the present (rather than the historic)
12. When Mrs Duncan Smith had set up meetings,
it had been her practice not to reveal herself as Mrs Duncan Smith
but instead to describe herself as the diary secretary or Betsy.
Moreover, Mrs Duncan Smith had been at the Westminster end of
his office arrangements, rather than the constituency end. She
had not therefore been in the habit of visiting the constituency
in her employee role.
13. Mr Duncan Smith said that he had first become
aware of the impending allegations when he had been contacted
by Newsnight on the Tuesday prior to the Party Conference. The
programme had put a number of questions and there had also been
a flurry of activity in the constituency. He was happy to share
with meas background to the circumstances which had led
to the complainta copy of letters exchanged subsequently
between his legal representatives and the BBC.
As a result of those exchanges Newsnight had not run their story
on Thursday 2 October as planned but he had reason to believe
that, on that day, all the papers had a copy of the material Mr
Crick had gathered.
14. The Sunday Telegraph had published some information
on 5 October and the story had continued to run disruptively throughout
the Party Conference. However, he had not been told the precise
nature of the allegations until they had been published in the
Sunday Telegraph on 12 October. He intended to take action against
the paper in due course.
15. It had been reported that some of the evidence
against him came from anonymous sources. These sources were, in
his view, tainted. (I commented that I would not expect anonymous
evidence to be counted against a Member if its source(s) remained
16. Mr Duncan Smith said that he suspected the
sources included Mr Mark McGregor (who had been removed as Party
Chief Executive because he was not doing a good job); Ms Jenny
Ungless, his former Chief of Staff (who had been sacked and had
gone on to try to found a separate party in Scotland); Mr Dominic
Cummings (who had been sacked as Director of Strategy); and Dr
17. Dr Gearson had written 2 e-mails referring
to concerns about Mr Duncan Smith's employment of his wife. He
had seen Dr Gearson the day after she had issued the first of
these and Dr Gearson had subsequently issued a second e-mail withdrawing
the concerns expressed in the first. She had said she was happy
then but in the last 4 days had been saying she had issued the
second e-mail under duress. He did not understand why this was
so, especially as in a meeting with her on 1 October attended
by Mr Montgomerie, she had not expressed such concern.
18. Mr Duncan Smith concluded by saying that
the allegations against him were groundless. He hoped they could
be resolved as quickly as possible. He was angry about circumstances
in which he found himself condemned in the media. He could not
accept the way they had handled this matter or the methods Mr
Crick and his associates had used (for example, in not telling
the local Councillors to whom they had spoken that their remarks
were being taped).
19. I thanked Mr Duncan Smith for his explanation
and said that I understood that the circumstances in which he
and his wife found themselves were distressing. As he would understand,
my sole concern was with the truth or otherwise of the allegations
against him, allegations which essentially focussed on the allegedly
improper use of his parliamentary allowances. I would reflect
carefully on what he had said and the material he had given me
in response to the allegations before deciding how to proceed.
31 October 2003 Sir Philip Mawer
6 Never supplied to the Commissioner Back
Not appended by the Commissioner. Back
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