UK Politics

Tory MP branded ‘disgraceful’ after defending colleague convicted of child sex offence

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A Conservative MP has been branded “disgraceful” after coming to the defence of a colleague thrown out of the party after his conviction for a child sex offence.

Former minister Crispin Blunt, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on global LGBT+ rights, denounced the conviction of Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan as “an international scandal” which would have “dreadful” consquences for gay Muslims worldwide.

But he was condemned by Labour party chair Anneliese Dodds, who called on Boris Johnson and Tory chair Oliver Dowden to distance their party from his remarks.

And he faced a revolt from members of hthe APPG, with SNP MPs Martin Docherty-Hughes and Stewart McDonald quitting their positions as vice-chairs and calling on him to stand down. The SNP’s Joanna Cherry and Kirsten Oswald and Labour MP Chris Bryant left the group over the “completely inappropriate” remarks.

Khan, who is gay and a Muslim, is awaiting sentence after a jury at Southwark Crown Court found him guilty on Monday of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy more than a decade before he entered parliament.

The court heard how Khan forced the teenager to drink gin and tonic, dragged him upstairs, pushed him on to a bed and asked him to watch pornography before the attack at a house in Staffordshire in 2008.

The victim made a complaint to police days after Khan helped Boris Johnson win a large Commons majority in 2019 by taking the West Yorkshire seat of Wakefield.

Khan, 48, had been suspended from the Conservative Party following the allegation, and a Tory spokesman for the Tories said he was expelled “with immediate effect” following the decision.

But former justice minister Mr Blunt, who attended parts of the trial, denounced the conviction as “an international scandal”.

In a statement on his website, the Reigate MP said: “I am utterly appalled and distraught at the dreadful miscarriage of justice that has befallen my friend and colleague Imran Ahmad Khan.

“His conviction today is nothing short of an international scandal, with dreadful wider implications for millions of LGBT+ Muslims around the world.”

Mr Blunt said the trial relied on “lazy tropes about LGBT+ people that we might have thought we had put behind us decades ago”.

He said that he hoped for Khan’s return to public service, adding: “Any other outcome will be a stain on our reputation for justice, and an appalling own goal by Britain as we try to take a lead in reversing the Victorian-era prejudice that still disfigures too much of the global statute book.”

Ms Dodds branded his comments “disgraceful”.

She said that Mr Johnson and Tory chair Oliver Dowden “must take action against this Tory MP and distance their party from his comments”.

Mr McDonald said: “Parliament needs a respected and robust LGBT group and Crispin can no longer provide that leadership. He should stand down.”

And Mr Docherty-Hughes said the intervention was “utterly inappropriate”, adding: “It’s time for the chair to go.”

Former Tory MP Louise Mensch said: “He needs to be expelled from the Conservative Party for that statement. He’s just defended the convicted abuser of a 15-year-old boy, and he is thereby attacking the minor victim.”

If Khan is sentenced to a year or more in prison, he will face automatic removal as an MP, triggering a by-election which would give Labour the opportunity to win back one of the so-called “red wall” seats in its Midlands and northern England strongholds seized by the Conservatives in 2019. A shorter jail term would expose him to a recall petition by constituents.

His legal team has vowed to appeal against the conviction, a move that could delay a potential by-election.

The victim, now 29, told a jury he was left feeling “scared, vulnerable, numb, shocked and surprised” after Khan touched his feet and legs, coming within “a hair’s breadth” of his genitals, as he went to sleep in a top bunkbed.

He ran to his parents and a police report was made at the time, but no further action was taken because the youngster did not want to make a formal complaint.

But he told jurors “it all came flooding back” when he learned Khan was standing in the December 2019 general election.

Days ahead of the poll, the victim said he contacted the Conservative Party press office, to tell them what Khan had done to him, but added: “I wasn’t taken very seriously.”

Khan denied sexual assault, saying he only touched the Catholic teenager’s elbow when he “became extremely upset” after a conversation about his confused sexuality.

Khan said he was trying to be “kind” and “helpful”, but the teenager became upset and “bolted” when the topic of pornography was raised.

The judge released Khan on bail, telling him: “I make it clear that all sentencing options, including immediate custody, are being considered by the court.”

Khan made no comment as he left court, but his lawyers said he maintains his innocence and will appeal.

Labour has called for his immediate resignation from parliament.

Mr Blunt and Sir Peter Bottomley, the father of the House of Commons, attended court on Monday, while a third Conservative MP, Adam Holloway, earlier provided a character statement used as part of Khan’s defence case.

A Conservative spokesperson said: “A jury of Mr Khan’s peers has found him guilty of a criminal offence. We completely reject any allegations of impropriety against our independent judiciary, the jury or Mr Khan’s victim.”

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