General election 2019: Alun Cairns refuses to give details on rape trial row

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Media captionThe ex-Welsh secretary declines to answer questions about a row that led him to quit

A former minister has refused to answer questions on when he knew his former aide had “sabotaged” a rape trial, in his first interview since the story broke.

Alun Cairns, who resigned as Welsh secretary on Wednesday, said he was “determined to clear his name”.

His former aide was selected as an assembly candidate eight months after the trial collapsed.

Mr Cairns is facing pressure to quit as a general election candidate.

His former colleague Ross England told a rape trial in April 2018 that he had been in a casual sexual relationship with the victim – despite such evidence being ruled inadmissible.

He was thrown out of court by the judge and the trial collapsed. The defendant James Hackett was subsequently convicted of rape at a retrial.

Mr Cairns had denied he knew about the trial’s collapse until last week, but resigned after BBC Wales obtained an email addressed to him discussing the case – it had been sent in August 2018.

Asked how he reconciled the differences between the statement and the email, Mr Cairns said: “This is a highly sensitive situation, and I’ve taken this seriously throughout.

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Alun Cairns said he is “determined to clear his name”

“The party has made a statement that has expressed sympathy to the victim. That is something I would absolutely fully support and of course suspension of Ross England as the candidate.

“Now it’s important to realise that I had nothing, no association in anyway with the trial and that I’ve stood aside as the secretary of state for Wales in order to give the cabinet office the space they need to fully look at all of the facts so they can come to a conclusion and a judgement.

“I’m keen to get on with the campaign of the general election. Of course people will judge all of the facts rather than trial by media.”

Asked by BBC Wales if he would stick to what he has said previously, he said: “There is a due process”, referring to an investigation that will be carried out by the cabinet office.

When it was put to him that voters would want to know when he became aware of what happened, he reiterated that civil servants will “look at this properly, look at it fully, and look at it as quickly as possible.”

He said Mr England “left my employment some 13 months before the trial”, and that he had “no communication from the court or the judge”.

It was put to Mr Cairns that BBC Wales had spoken to sources within the Conservative Party who were aware of the matter. Asked why he did not know about the situation if they did, he repeated his earlier points.

“Let the cabinet office look at all of the evidence, let them take into account all of the facts, and they will make the judgement rather than be faced by trial by media,” he said.

Mr Cairns then left the interview.

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Ross England has been suspended as a candidate for the Vale of Glamorgan at the assembly election

The politician resigned from the cabinet following the publication of the email earlier this week.

Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats have called for Mr Cairns to quit as a general election candidate, as has the rape victim at the centre of the case.

The email message 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.”

The former Welsh secretary endorsed Mr England’s candidacy after it was announced in December 2018.

Other candidates standing in the Vale of Glamorgan include Belinda Loveluck-Edwards for Welsh Labour and Anthony Slaughter for the Wales Green Party.

The close of nominations is 14 November.