Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Written Evidence


15.  Written statement by Mr Jonathan Hellewell, 17 October 2003

[See also Volume III, PCS Oral Evidence 12]

1.  I have worked in the Private Office of the Leader of the Opposition as Mr Duncan Smith's Senior Aide since l3th September, 2001 when Mr Duncan Smith became the Leader of the Conservative Party. I also worked for Mr Duncan Smith as his campaign aide during the Conservative Party Leadership Election in the summer of 2001. Apart from Annabelle Eyre, I am the only member of the Private Office who has worked for Mr Duncan Smith since he became Party Leader and who continues to work for him today.

2.  My work in the Private Office has been almost wholly on the political and parliamentary, not administrative, side of the office; in doing this I have worked primarily with Owen Paterson and Alistair Burt (Mr Duncan Smith's Parliamentary Private Secretaries) in a separate part of the Leader's Office from the administrative team, either in Conservative Central Office, or in the House of Commons after the office was moved back there. The only exception to this was the period of a month or so immediately following the Leadership election in September 2001 in which I literally worked alongside Annabelle Eyre, Mr Duncan Smith's Private Secretary, and Andrew Whitby-Collins, Mr Duncan Smith's Diary Secretary, in the Leader's outer office in Conservative Central Office.

3.  In working for Mr Duncan Smith during the leadership election in the summer of 2001, I quickly became aware of how his office in the House of Commons, then situated in the Norman Shaw building, worked before he became the Party Leader.

4.  I was aware that Mrs Duncan Smith was an active part of the office. I occasionally sat at Mrs Duncan Smith's desk in his Norman Shaw office when the other desks in the office were in use. On the first occasion on which this happened, Annabelle Eyre told me to be careful not to disturb the work either on the desk or on the computer, which was Mrs Duncan Smith's files containing diary invitations, replies, constituency correspondence and so forth were stored on or next to the desk and she had a telephone and a computer which clearly had on it files used by her for her work. If I was working at the desk I sometimes took calls for Mrs Duncan Smith about work-related matters. This office was given up some time—not later than a couple of months—after Mr Duncan Smith became Leader of the Conservative Party and Mrs Duncan Smith thenceforth worked from home full-time. I knew there was an office in Mr and Mrs Duncan Smith's house in Fulham and in Swanbourne I was aware of this because I visited both houses in 2001/2 and saw these offices and because Annabelle Eyre and Mrs Duncan Smith told me during the summer of 2001 that Annabelle Eyre had spent the General Election of 2001 typing constituency letters with Mrs Duncan Smith in the Fulham house whilst Mr Duncan Smith was sent around the country with an aide. I was thus aware that it was normal for Mrs Duncan Smith to be based in part in a fully- functioning office at home.

5.  In addition, during the period in which I worked alongside Annabelle Eyre and Andrew Whitby-Collins in the autumn of 2001, after Mr Duncan Smith had become Party Leader, I was conscious that they were in regular telephone contact with Mrs Duncan Smith. I saw large amounts of work being faxed to and from Mrs Duncan Smith's home office as well as packages of work being sent to and fro in the post. I frequently heard Annabelle Eyre discussing with Mrs Duncan Smith the history of specific constituents' cases which Mr Duncan Smith had taken up; I also heard Andrew Whitby-Collins discussing diary matters and contacts with Mrs Duncan Smith, who was evidently knowledgeable both about the history of constituents' cases but also about Mr Duncan Smith's political engagements and contacts.

6.  After this period, that is after the autumn of 2001, when I was no longer physically seated alongside Annabelle Eyre, Andrew Whitby-Collins (and—later—Christine Watson) in the Leader's office, I was aware in a general, but not specific sense that they continued to be in regular touch with Mrs Duncan Smith because my office was adjacent to theirs. By this, I mean that I would hear them speaking to her on the telephone discussing work matters if I was passing through their part of the office; but obviously I was not aware of which specific constituents' cases or diary engagements they were discussing.

7.  In summary, I was aware that Mrs Duncan Smith undertook work for Mr Duncan Smith which related to his role as Member of Parliament for Chingford & Woodford Green, both before and after his election to the Leadership of the Conservative Party. I have been surprised to read in the press of Vanessa Gearson's apparent allegations about Mrs Duncan Smith, not least because she was not well placed to know whether or not such work was being undertaken.

8.  Vanessa Gearson worked in the office from September 2002 as "Administrative Head of the Leader's Office". I do not believe that, due to the nature of her work she would have had any detailed knowledge of any contact with Mrs Duncan Smith, though obviously she should have had a general knowledge that Mrs Duncan Smith did undertake some work from the office at home.

9.  Vanessa Gearson's work was wholly unrelated to constituency matters, which were managed in Westminster successively by Annabelle Eyre and Christine Watson (latterly with some additional help from Cara Walker and David Haselhurst), from home by Mrs Duncan Smith and in Chingford by the Agent, Rikki Radford.

10.  Vanessa Gearson's job was to liaise administratively with the Shadow Cabinet (for example, to inform them of the times of meetings); to sit in on all the regular meetings such as the Morning Meeting; and additionally to attend almost all other ad hoc meetings during the day with Mr Duncan Smith in his office within the series of rooms in the Leader's office.

11.  In summary, I do not believe that Vanessa Gearson would be well placed to know whether or not Mrs Duncan Smith was undertaking work for Mr Duncan Smith in his role as Member of Parliament for Chingford & Woodford Green.

12.  I was at no time aware of the arrangements related to Mrs Duncan Smith's salary apart from the information contained in the two e-mails sent by Vanessa Gearson, copies of which I saw at the time.

E-mails:

13.  With regard to the e-mails sent by Vanessa Gearson, of which I understand you now have a copy, I remember that in late January 2003, Vanessa Gearson sent an e-mail to Mark MacGregor (Chief Executive), Theresa May (Party Chairman) and to Paul Baverstock (Director of Communications). From memory, I was first made aware of this e-mail when I was having a conversation with Owen Paterson in the House of Commons. Paul Baverstock approached us and showed us a printed copy of the e-mail.

14.  Both Owen Paterson and I were astonished at the e-mail due to the extraordinary nature of the claims made within it and the very odd style in which the e-mail was written. Its formal style was so different to the relatively informal e-mails normally written within the Party (including by Vanessa Gearson) that I was particularly struck by it. I remember that my immediate reaction, which I voiced to Owen Paterson, was that the e-mail "looked as if it had been written to be leaked".

15.  I was aware that Vanessa Gearson subsequently sent another e-mail to the recipients of the first e-mail, in which she made clear that her original concerns were groundless. I know this because I saw a printed copy of it at the time.

16.  To the best of my knowledge, Vanessa Gearson never repeated the concerns raised in the first e-mail nor complained about the way in which they were handled.

17.  I was additionally aware that when Christine Watson became Mr Duncan Smith's Private Secretary and thus took on an additional workload, both she and Annabelle Eyre (who had taken on the job of arranging Mr Duncan Smith's visits around the country as well as in the constituency) were keen that some of their salary should be paid by Conservative Central Office funds in order to reflect the fact that some of their work was done for Mr Duncan Smith in his role as Leader of the Opposition as well as in his role as a constituency MP.

18.  I was aware on numerous occasions (based on conversations with Christine Watson and Annabelle Eyre) that Mark MacGregor, then Chief Executive of the Party, tried over a considerable period of time to block any such new arrangement being made by refusing to authorise the finance and personnel departments at Conservative Central Office to make the arrangements for these two additional Party salaries. I believed that Mark MacGregor did not want either Annabelle Eyre or Christine Watson to continue working for Mr Duncan Smith. Eventually, such an arrangement was made for Christine Watson but Annabelle Eyre had to be paid separately by a Party donor, (which was publicly declared in Annabelle Eyre's House of Commons Register of Interests). After Mark MacGregor's departure, she started to be paid directly from Conservative Central Office funds.

17 October 2003


 
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