A former Conservative minister has been found to have raped and physically abused his wife by a family court judge who considered evidence at a private trial.
Judge Elizabeth Williscroft also concluded that Andrew Griffiths, 51, pressurised Kate Griffiths, the Conservative MP for Burton, Staffordshire, into engaging in sexual activity, and used “coercive and controlling behaviour”.
Mr Griffiths, who used to be the MP for Burton and the minister for small business, and once worked as Theresa May’s chief of staff, resigned in July 2018 after a Sunday newspaper reported that he had sent “depraved” messages to two women constituents.
He was reported to have bombarded a 28-year-old barmaid and her friend with lewd comments over social media during a three-week period.
Judge Williscroft made findings, on the balance of probabilities, against Mr Griffiths, in November 2020.
The judge had been overseeing a dispute between Mr and Ms Griffiths, who are now divorced, centred on a child at private family court hearings in Derby.
Ms Griffiths, who is also 51, made a series of allegations against Mr Griffiths and asked Judge Williscroft to make findings of fact.
Mr Griffiths denied allegations made by Ms Griffiths and “adamantly denied” rape.
Right to know
Judge Williscroft made findings in favour of Ms Griffiths but decided that those findings should not be made public, in order to protect the child at the centre of the case.
A more senior High Court judge then ruled that Judge Williscroft’s findings should be revealed, and Mr and Ms Griffiths named, after two journalists, which included one from the PA news agency, learned about the case and argued that the public had a right to know.
Judge Williscroft had asked Mrs Justice Lieven, who is based in the Family Division of the High Court, to consider arguments about publicity.
Mrs Justice Lieven heard the journalists’ application to be allowed to report Judge Williscroft’s findings, and name Mr and Ms Griffiths, at a private hearing in London, and ruled in their favour.
Mr Griffiths challenged Mrs Justice Lieven’s ruling and asked Court of Appeal judges to consider the case.
Fight for publication
Three appeal judges on Friday dismissed his appeal and findings made by Judge Williscroft, and Mrs Justice Lieven, could be made public.
Ms Griffiths had backed the journalists’ fight for publication and agreed to be named in media reports – even though victims of sexual abuse have a legal right to anonymity.
Mr Griffiths was against publication.
He argued that revealing Judge Williscroft’s findings, and publishing his name and Ms Griffiths’ name, would harm the child at the centre of the case and harm his relationship with the child.
Mrs Justice Lieven ruled against Mr Griffiths.
But she said the child at the centre of the case could not be named in media reports.
“(Judge Williscroft) found that the father had been physically abusive to the mother on more than one occasion,” said Mrs Justice Lieven in a written ruling on the publicity arguments.
“The judge found that the father had used coercive and controlling behaviour, including to pressurise the mother to engage in sexual activity.
“The judge found that the father raped the mother… on more than one occasion.”
Mrs Justice Lieven said she had balanced the media’s right to free speech against rights to respect for family and private life.
She said she had carried out an “intensive and fact-specific investigation” and concluded that Judge Williscroft’s findings should be made public.
“I accept that, on the specific facts of this case, there is considerable and legitimate public interest in the publication of the judgment including the parties being identified,” said Mrs Justice Lieven.
“The father was in a prominent and powerful position in the UK.
“Importantly, his role as an MP and a minister meant that he had a role in law-making, including in respect of issues concerning domestic abuse.
“The mere fact that he was an MP, let alone a minister, means that there is a strong public interest in the public knowing about a finding by a judge of the conduct of the nature of that set out in the judgment.
“The democratic system relies upon the media being able to publish information about elected representatives, particularly where the information comes from findings in a court judgment.”
Raped and mistreated
Charlotte Proudman, a barrister representing Ms Griffiths, had told Mrs Justice Lieven that another woman had previously made a harassment complaint about Mr Griffiths to police.
Ms Griffiths and Mr Griffiths had separated after his resignation and become embroiled in a family court dispute overseen by Judge Williscroft.
She had not made a rape complaint to police.
But she told Judge Williscroft that Mr Griffiths had raped and mistreated her when they were married, and when he was an MP, and asked Judge Williscroft to make findings.
Mr Griffiths “adamantly” denied Ms Griffiths’ rape allegations.
He said he had “never had any form of sexual contact that was not consensual”.