Elphicke ‘lobbied justice secretary to interfere in husband’s sex offence trial’

Tory defector Natalie Elphicke has been accused of lobbying the justice secretary in 2020 to interfere in her then-husband’s criminal sex offences trial.

Sir Robert Buckland has said the MP, who has now crossed the floor to Labour, approached him when he was lord chancellor and justice secretary before the hearing of Charlie Elphicke’s case.

She allegedly told Sir Robert that it was unfair the case was the first to be heard at Southwark Crown Court after the Covid lockdown and that it was being overseen by Lady Justice Whipple, The Sunday Times reported.

One person present viewed her comments as a bid to have the case moved to a lower-profile court to spare her partner public scrutiny, while another saw it as an attempt to replace the senior judge, according to the newspaper.

Sir Robert rejected her plea, suggesting his intervention could undermine the constitutional doctrine of the separation of powers between Parliament and the judiciary.

The Tory MP told The Sunday Times: “She was told in no uncertain terms that it would have been completely inappropriate to speak to the judge about the trial at all.” Questions were raised about the timing of Sir Robert’s decision to raise the matter, having waited until her defection to do so.

The damaging new claims came as senior Tory sources claimed Ms Elphicke defected because she was “bitter” about being denied a ministerial job. They told The Observer the former Tory MP made clear she wanted to be a housing minister and the snub contributed to her decision to leave the party.

The timing of several critical stories of Ms Elphicke led to suggestions the Conservatives were trying to deter others from defecting. Tory MPs are panicking over who could be next to cross the floor, and shadow health secretary Wes Streeing told The Independent he is in talks with Conservatives also thinking of joining Labour.

Ms Elphicke’s former husband and predecessor as MP for Dover was later convicted of sexually assaulting two women and jailed for two years.

She ended the marriage after his conviction but supported his unsuccessful appeal, saying Mr Elphicke had been “attractive, and attracted to women” and “an easy target for dirty politics and false allegations”.

Ms Elphicke allegedly also tried to secure him better prison conditions, asking for more comfortable pillows, The Sunday Times reported.

The new Labour MP denies the characterisation of the meeting with Sir Robert and that she asked for improved jail conditions.

A spokesman for Ms Elphicke told the newspaper: “This is nonsense. It’s certainly true that Mr Elphicke continued to be supported after his imprisonment by a large number of Conservative MPs who had known him for a long time, including some who visited him and independently lobbied on his behalf, which was nothing to do with Natalie.”

A Labour Party spokesman said: “Natalie Elphicke totally rejects that characterisation of the meeting.

“If Robert Buckland had any genuine concerns about the meeting, then he should have raised them at the time, rather than making claims to the newspapers now Natalie has chosen to join the Labour Party.”

Following news of Ms Elphicke’s defection this week, Labour MPs raised concerns about the decision to admit her to the party, citing her comments about Mr Elphicke’s case and his victims.

In a statement on Thursday, she said she condemned “his behaviour towards other women and towards me”, adding it was “right that he was prosecuted” and she was “sorry for the comments that I made about his victims”.

Announcing her decision to switch parties, Ms Elphicke hit out at Mr Sunak’s “tired and chaotic government” and accused him of failing to deliver on his promise to “stop the boats”, adding that Labour would “bring a much better future for our country”.

Sir Keir Starmer faced questions over where he would draw the line with welcoming right-wing politicians into his party.

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