11. Written statement by Miss Annabelle
Eyre, 18 November 2003 |
[See also Volume III, PCS Oral Evidence 8]
I make this statement in response to the transcripts
of interviews from Vanessa Gearson, Mark MacGregor and Jenny Ungless.
Vanessa Gearson's testimony
1. Appointment to the office
Vanessa Gearson was originally approached by Iain
in July 2002 to join the office after she had discussed with me
the possibility of her replacing AWC as the diary secretary. I
suggested to Iain that he might speak to her about the diary secretary
position, when Iain spoke to her, she made it clear to him that
she wanted to run his office. I was concerned to learn from her
testimony that she believed it was "clear to them that I
was going to be appointed to this role" i.e. Chief of Staff
to replace Jenny Ungless (I was not aware that Mark MacGregor
had suggested that she should do the job). In August, Iain decided
to appoint her as the Administrative Head of the Office. I understood
this role to incorporate overseeing the correspondence in and
out of the office, dealing with administration of the office including
overseeing the diary and liaising with the Shadow Cabinet, and
the in the interim having responsibility for the staff in the
Leader's Office until such time as a Chief of Staff was appointed.
Vanessa Gearson remained in the Chairman's Office
in 32 Smith Square until after the conference in October 2002
when Andrew Whitby-Collins left to join the Candidates Department.
From that time, she shared the Leader's outer office with Christine
Watson at 32 Smith Square. The Leader's Office continued to follow
the practice of staying in Smith Square in the morning and going
to the House of Commons in the afternoon. The office in the House
was such that whilst Christine's desk was situated directly outside
Iain's office, Vanessa Gearson's was behind a dividing door
2. Financial issues
Vanessa Gearson raised a number of issues regarding
finances in the Leader's Office in her transcript. She refers
to the attitude of those in the Leader's Office and suggests that
we believed we were exempt from rules or regulations. I disagree
that this was the case. In fact, if anything we were very aware
of what we could and could not do, particularly as we had experienced
the campaign for the leadership in which we were very careful
about declaring expenditure with the Electoral Commission.
She mentions in particular the costs of the three
week national tour that the Leader undertook after the Party Conference
in 2002. As you will see from the attached note from Robert Ashman,
who was responsible for overseeing the organisation of the tour,
Vanessa Gearson had little understanding of the organisation involved.
She also raised concerns about mobile phone bills
without any understanding of the work involved for those that
travel with the Leader. In particular we needed to liaise with
the office, the press, journalists, check arrangements for the
tour and often make calls to Shadow Cabinet members or MPs on
behalf of Iain. We did not have any other office facilities, hence
why our bills were often greater than those based in the office.
Vanessa Gearson raises matters with regard to the
office set up at Swanbourne. As she acknowledges, she never visited
Swanbourne and would therefore have had no understanding of the
set up. Iain and Betsy moved their equipment from Fulham to Swanbourne.
CCO then helped install equipment so that they had a fully functioning
office from the autumn 2001computer with e-mail facilities,
fax, phone lines. However, further changes were made to enlarge
it so that he could accommodate other staff (speechwriters and
advisers) to work at Swanbourne on speeches, campaigns etc.
3.Office Costs Allowance (Staffing Allowance
and TEP) and Additional Costs Allowance
As I have stated in my previous statements, I had
responsibility from 1997-2002 for overseeing the Office Costs
Allowance and subsequently the Staffing Allowance and IEP. I maintained
the files for the allowances and the claims were submitted in
accordance to the rules and were approved by the Fees Office.
I never had any reason to discuss these allowances with Vanessa
Gearson as this remained the responsibility of the Private Secretary.
She raises concerns about my work as private secretary
to the Leader of the Opposition (2001-2002), however as I have
stated elsewhere my work was almost entirely of a parliamentary
nature. My involvement in party political work was minimal.
Vanessa Gearson also mentions claims to the Additional
Costs Allowance or the Accommodation Costs Allowance. As I have
stated elsewhere, I never had any concerns about these claims,
and I never had reason to discuss them with the Fees Office. As
far as I was aware there was never a problem with these claims.
Vanessa Gearson refers to Crick's investigation into
allowances (page 36).
Whilst we were aware of Crick's investigation into Iain with regards
to his CV (Newsnight, December 19th)he had done a similar
investigations with other politiciansI was never aware
of any suggestion that he was looking into other aspects of Iain's
4. Knowledge of constituency work
Vanessa Gearson makes reference to my work as a constituency
secretary (1997-2001) and claims that "Annabelle Eyre and
clearly been having a number of very significant problems with
her workload when she had worked as Mr Duncan Smith's constituency
secretary". I never had a problem dealing with the constituency
correspondence and casework. As I had no communication with Vanessa
Gearson until she came to work at CCO in 2002, I find it hard
to understand how she could form any opinion about the work that
I did at that time.
She refers to establishing "procedures that
brought our two offices together and therefore I had overall responsibility
for those" and "by necessity I was absolutely, totally
and utterly involved in what was going on". However, in fact
she has no involvement in the constituency office and the operations
were kept quite separate. Although Christine Watson continued
to oversee the constituency office once she was appointed as Private
Secretary, Cara Walker dealt with the constituency correspondence
solely and was situated on the floor below the main office. BDS
remained involved as a support, and I was contacted with regard
to constituency issues. Vanessa Gearson would have had no knowledge
as to how constituency events were organised or have dealt with
5. Annabelle Eyre's role
In her written statement, Vanessa Gearson describes
me as "the daughter of Lady Monica Eyre, a long-standing
family friend of Mrs Duncan Smith". While this is inaccurate
and in any case irrelevant, I take great offence at Vanessa Gearson's
inference that I was employed because my mother might have been
a friend of Mrs Duncan Smith's. In actual fact I was employed
by Iain in May 1997 at which time I had never met Mrs Duncan Smith
and my mother did not meet her until the following year. There
has also been reference in press reports that my late father,
Major General Sir James Eyre, was a friend of Betsy's parentsthat
too is entirely inaccurate.
In her oral evidence, Vanessa Gearson raises concerns
about my "performance" as I have stated in previous
statements, I was appointed to my new role as Head of Tours and
Planning at the end of August prior to my departure on holiday.
I was abroad for two weeks, although I had to return early on
6th September because of my father's illness. I remained at home
for a further two weeks whilst my father was seriously ill returning
to work on Tuesday 23rd September 2001. My father remained in
hospital until his death in January. On 5th October, I left the
office to go to the Party Conference in Bournemouth. On Sunday
13 October, Iain started on his three week national tour which
continued until Friday 1st November. I was therefore actually
in the office for under two weeks. I fail to see how Vanessa Gearson
could have assessed my work in my role in such a short time.
It was clear that she did not want me to remain in
the office (as Mark MacGregor made clear in his oral evidence)
and I believe that is why she suggested that Rebecca Layton and
Christine Watson write their memos. I have no recollection of
having a meeting with her to discuss any concerns.
6. Arrival at Smith Square (September 2001)
Vanessa Gearson makes reference to the situation
on 13 September 2001. As she was not employed in CCO until the
summer of 2002, I fail to understand how she would have had any
knowledge of what the situation we inherited was. As I have attested,
there was no staff in the office, no handover, and no furniture
in the Leader's Office. There was not a functioning system.
She also makes reference to the transition from the
campaign set up to establishing the Leader's Office. Vanessa Gearson
had no involvement in Iain's campaign and would not have been
aware of the people involved or of the way in which the campaign
was run. A number of people were brought into the Leader's Office
from the campaign, including Simon Gordon, but most had been volunteers
and only AE, AWC and JH had direct experience of how Iain worked.
Simon's work during the campaign had been with the voluntary side
of the party, and he was never involved in the workings of Iain's
The Correspondence Unit deal with correspondence
from members of the public and members of the party. It was not
appropriate for them to deal with other correspondence of a personal
nature or from colleagues, either of congratulation, which may
have needed a more personal response, or with regard to policy,
which would have been dealt with, at that stage, by Owen Paterson,
Jenny Ungless began working for the Leader on 15th
October. Her appointment was announced to the press on 12 October.
Iain had been Leader of the Opposition for a month.
7. Mr Duncan Smith
Vanessa Gearson describes Iain as "quite a demanding
gentlemen. He is not particularly personable as an individual
..." Having worked for Iain for over six years, I do not
recognise this description of him. I agree that he is demanding
as anyone in such a position should be, but as far as I was concerned
he was extremely personable. Obviously as his private secretary
from 1997-2001, I got to know him well. He was a caring and interested
employer. Whilst he expected his employees to be hard-working,
productive, and polite, he was always approachable and accessible
and insisted that employees to come to him directly with problems
or concerns to discuss.
8. Betsy Duncan Smith
Vanessa Gearson raises concerns about Betsy's role
and states that it did not go beyond "the absolutely reasonable
role as a spouse". As she acknowledges however when she worked
for two other members who employed their wives, there were defined
issues which they would occupy themselves with through communication
with members of staff. That is exactly what the nature of BDS'
s employment was: progresschasing, particularly in relation
to the diary, correspondence, and liaising with AE and AWC and
more recently CW. As I have stated elsewhere, often her work was
as a result of discussions with Iain regarding people he met,
people he wanted to meet, arrangements that he wanted made, things
he needed followed up etc.
She infers that nobody discussed Betsy's role because
she did not actually have a role to play. Vanessa never discussed
Betsy's position with me, had she done so I would have been happy
to have told her about Betsy's involvement and work in the office.
Mark MacGregor's statement and transcript
1. Leader's Office and BDS
In his statement he refers to meetings with the members
of the Leader's office. As far as I recall all his meetings would
have been with Jenny Ungless and/or the Leader. He never had reason
to meet other members of the Leader's office, he hardly had any
dealings with the private office except to make arrangements for
meetings with IDS. As a result, I disagree that he was "extremely
aware" of the work undertaken in the Leader's office and
the sort of work that was undertaken by BDS was not something
that would have involved Mark MacGregor. Cara and Christine, when
she was constituency secretary, for example, never had any dealings
with him. BDS would have had no reason to correspond or communicate
with Mark MacGregor, AWC and I would have done that.
Mark MacGregor says that there was no suggestion
of involving BDS with the Leader's Tourperhaps because
at that time AB, who was the only representative of the Leader's
Office on the tour team, was away. Once I returned to work in
late September, I continued to liaise with BDS with regard to
the arrangements for the Leader's tour.
He suggests that there are rules about the employment
of spousesI do not believe that is correct. There are no
rules set by the Fees Office regarding the employment of spouses
in the House of Commons. In fact a number of Members employ spouses,
children and even mothers to assist them in the Parliamentary
2. Annabelle Eyre's role
Mark MacGregor is completely wrong about the nature
of my employment, which only goes to emphasise how little he knew
about the workings of the office. I was Iain's private secretary
until August 2002. The work that I did was reclaimable under the
Staffing Allowance. My salary was paid from CCO (Short Money)
from August-December 2002 when I was promoted to become Head of
Tours and Planning to the Leader of the Opposition. In December
2002, Iain was forced to find a donor to pay my salary rather
than the Short Money apparently due to the pressures on the Leader's
Jenny Ungless's testimony
1. BDS's role in the office and the allowances
Jenny Ungless mentions that there was "no handover"
from BDS. As BDS was assisting AE and AWC in the workings of the
private office, it would be absurd to expect her to handover anything
to Jenny. In any event Iain had been leader for just a month and
most of that time had been spent in preparations for the Party
Conference and dealing with the situation post- 9/11 and the Afghanistan
Jenny Ungless recognises that her office was not
close to AWC and AE. She would not have been aware of what our
discussions were about, as she said: "it was her impression".
JU admits (p 15)
that she may not have been in a position to see it.
Jenny Ungless claims that she never raised the issue
of Betsy's pay with Mark MacGregor. In addition, she emphasises
that she had no knowledge or responsibility for the Parliamentary
Allowances as this was something that AB dealt with.
2. The box
It is important to note that Jenny Ungless did not
have a key to Iain's box. IDS and AE were the only key-holders
at that time. Whilst Jenny Ungless's job was to oversee the box,
I would regularly put things in for BDS and remove paperwork that
was specifically for me from IDS or BDS or for Andrew, which Jenny
Ungless would not necessarily need to be aware of.
18 November 2003
63 See PCS Written Submission 13. Back
Not appended by the Commissioner. Back