Bury St Edmunds: Dean’s letter prompted David Ruffley to break his silence
10:11 24 July 2014
New details about the incident which led to Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley receiving a police caution for common assault have emerged.
We revealed last week that the Very Rev Frances Ward, the Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, had written to the MP – and copied in many senior Tories – arguing his position was “untenable” following an incident in March involving his former partner, who is a friend of the dean.
Now the dean’s letter to the under-fire MP has been published in full on a political blog website. In it, she tells how her friend said she had been “frightened” of Mr Ruffley’s “rage and violent behaviour”.
It also questions Mr Ruffley’s “lengthy justification and defence” of himself in an earlier phone call with the dean.
However, the MP has since sent a strong letter of rebuttal to the dean and all those who received the original letter.
It is understood he expresses his deep regret about the incident in the letter, but says he did not believe any injuries were caused.
He also stressed his strong condemnation of domestic violence.
Dr Ward sent her letter to Mr Ruffley at the end of last week, almost a month after it emerged that the Bury St Edmunds MP had accepted a caution from the Metropolitan Police on March 15 following an incident at an address in Pimlico, London.
The Met would give no details, except to describe it as a “domestic incident”.
Since the news of the incident Mr Ruffley had remained silent about it – and the chairman of his local Conservative Association, Andrew Speed, issued a statement in its immediate wake saying that the matter had been dealt with.
However on the same day that the fact that the dean had written to Mr Ruffley emerged, it became clear that the Bury St Edmunds Conservative Association had brought forward its next executive meeting – scheduled for September 9 – until the end of this month to give members, and the MP, the chance to discuss the issue.
Since the publication of the letter, the spotlight has been turned on Dr Ward who has issued a statement saying: “Everything I wish to say was contained in the letter and would not wish to comment further.”
The letter was copied to 11 leading public figures in Suffolk, who all received Mr Ruffley’s rebuttal later the same day.
In it, he points out that the police decided that his actions amounted to common assault. He had been given legal advice that such a charge would indicate that there were no injuries, or any injuries were not serious.
He said he accepted the police caution because he accepted responsibility for his actions and he understood it would be the end of the matter.
Mr Ruffley also said he did not consider it to be a “little local incident” and deeply regretted what had happened.
An edited version of the dean’s letter to David Ruffley MP:
You phoned me last Monday, because you had heard that I was concerned about recent events in your private life and the impact of those events upon your position as the Member of Parliament for Bury St Edmunds.
I had received sufficient comment and concern from a wide circle of people, both within the Cathedral and through the town and county, to have arrived at the opinion that your position is untenable.
This concern prompted me to speak confidentially last week to Lord Tebbit, who advised me to speak to Cllr John Griffiths, which I did.
On Monday, on the phone, I heard your lengthy justification and defence of yourself, but I think I need to question your version of events.
You tried to convince me that in the ‘incident’ back in March there was blame on both sides.
I cannot let you try to tell me that it was only a ‘little local incident’ or that [my friend] was at fault. I must remind you of the seriousness of the assault and that you were arrested, not her.
[My friend] has given me her permission to send this letter.
It is my opinion that you need help to come to terms with your behaviour, and I suggest that you seek professional guidance about your health and wellbeing. I have copied others into this letter in the hope that such help might be forthcoming to support you through this difficult time.
I hope you take on board the extent of the concerns that I shared with you, for the sake of the town of Bury St Edmunds and the Conservative Party.
It is my belief that you have lost the confidence of a significant proportion of your former supporters and should consider your position.