A UK cabinet minister has resigned over claims he knew about a former aide’s role in the “sabotage” of a rape trial.
Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns denied knowing Tory assembly candidate Ross England made claims about the victim’s sexual history in an April 2018 trial.
But it was discovered Mr Cairns was emailed about it in August 2018 – four months before Mr England was chosen as Vale of Glamorgan candidate.
The BBC has been told Mr Cairns intends to stand in the general election.
He was the longest-serving minister in the cabinet, after being appointed in 2016.
Mr Cairns, who represented the Vale of Glamorgan, said he only became aware of Mr England’s role in the trial’s collapse when the story broke last week.
In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Mr Cairns said: “You will be aware of allegations relating to the actions of a party employee and candidate for the Welsh assembly elections in the Vale of Glamorgan.
“This is a very sensitive matter, and in light of continued speculation, I write to tender my resignation as secretary of state for Wales.
“I will co-operate in full with the investigation under the Ministerial Code which will now take place and I am confident I will be cleared of any breach or wrong doing.”
In his response, Mr Johnson said he was “extremely grateful for all the work you have done in the role as Secretary of State since March 2016”.
He added: “In particular, I would like to put on record my gratitude for all the support you have given to this government in ensuring we honour the commitment to the people that we leave the European Union.
“Given your long service as Secretary of State, you can be proud of your record of delivery for the people of Wales, in particular in ensuring the abolition of tolls on the Severn bridges.”
The BBC has been told Mr Cairns intends to contest the Vale of Glamorgan seat in the 12 December general election.
But a Welsh Conservatives source questioned whether he should, saying: “If you can’t hold the line as a Cabinet minister, how could you credibly be a candidate”.
Mr England, who was selected as the candidate for the Vale of Glamorgan, said he had given an “honest answer” while giving evidence at the rape trial of his friend James Hackett.
He told the court he had a casual sexual relationship with the complainant – which she denied – despite the judge making it clear that evidence of the sexual history of the victim was inadmissible.
Judge Stephen John Hopkins QC said to him: “Why did you say that? Are you completely stupid?
“You have managed single-handed, and I have no doubt it was deliberate on your part, to sabotage this trial… get out of my court.”
Hackett was subsequently convicted of rape at a retrial.
The email on 2 August 2018 was sent to Mr Cairns by Geraint Evans, his special adviser. It was also copied to Richard Minshull – the director of the Welsh Conservatives – and another member of staff.
It said: “I have spoken to Ross and he is confident no action will be taken by the court.”
Mr England was suspended as a candidate and as an employee last week after details of the court case emerged and the party said a “full investigation will be conducted”.
At the time of his selection to stand as an AM, Mr Cairns endorsed Mr England as a “friend and colleague” with whom “it will be a pleasure to campaign”.
The rape victim had called for Mr Cairns to quit, saying: “If he’d come out and condemned Ross [England] in the first instance, he wouldn’t be in this position.
“I would like an apology from the party and Alun Cairns for selecting him in the first place. I can’t believe that not one senior Welsh Conservative has said that what he did was wrong.”
In the first of two statements issued on Thursday, Welsh Tory party chairman Lord Davies of Gower said the party only became aware of the “full extent of the proceedings” when Hackett’s appeal process ended in October.
He said: “We were fully aware that Ross England was involved as a witness in a sensitive case. We are also aware of the responsibility we have as employers.
“Since the end of the appeal court case, we have now been made aware of the full extent of the proceedings.”
In a second statement, he said he could “categorically state” he and Mr Cairns were “completely unaware of the details of the collapse of this trial until they became public this week”.
Mr England used to work for Mr Cairns in the Vale of Glamorgan and was selected as the party’s candidate to fight for the constituency seat at the 2021 Welsh assembly elections.
The victim said his selection “shows how little respect they have for me”.
She added: “It is completely shocking to me that Ross England would stand up in court and say these things given that they are untrue.
“He was asked if we worked together, and the answer to that is yes.
“Nobody asked him if we were in a sexual relationship or not. For him to just blurt that out proves to me that it was a formulated plan that he and whoever else conjured to try and derail the trial.
“I think it was an absolutely deliberate attempt to sabotage the trial.”
In a statement, Mr England said: “I gave an honest answer, honouring the oath I took to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
“I complied fully with the conditions of the court before and after the trial.”
Stephen Crabb, Mr Cairns’ predecessor as secretary of state for Wales, said: “We shouldn’t forget that there’s one clear victim in this and that is the woman who suffered a serious crime.
“There’s a wider issue here – we’ve never had a female Welsh Conservative Member of Parliament. There is a lack of women in senior positions in the Welsh Conservative Party.
“And I’m not saying that would have fixed an issue like this, but when something like this comes along it is an opportunity for us as a party to look at ourselves and say ‘actually, are we handling things correctly? Are our processes fit for purpose when something like this happens?’ which as I say is very serious and deals with very sensitive matters.”
Lord Davies expressed his thanks to Mr Cairns “for all his hard work as secretary of state for Wales”.
He added: “Alun has worked tirelessly to raise our country’s profile, both at home and abroad, and for that I am grateful. I wish Alun well for his future.”
Plaid Cymru candidate Liz Saville Roberts said: “I hope that Alun Cairns’ resignation as secretary of state proves to be some solace to the woman at the centre of this case, who still has received no apology from the Conservative Party.
“Such conduct is neither befitting of a government minister, nor of a Member of Parliament. Mr Cairns should do the honourable thing and withdraw from the election – and if he doesn’t, the Conservative party should insist he withdraws.”
Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “What an appalling and unnecessary experience for the victim.
“The trial should never have been sabotaged – Ross England should never have been selected as a candidate, Alun Cairns should never have tried to cover up what he knew. When will the Tories finally do the right thing?”