The British MP Supporting A Sex Offender

On 30th July 2020 the former MP for Dover, Charlie Elphicke, was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault against two women. Once the verdict had been announced, his wife of twenty-five years — who succeeded him in the Dover parliamentary seat and was photographed accompanying him to court each day — made public her intention to divorce him.

Natalie Elphicke’s announcement met with approval, sympathy and — in certain quarters — skepticism. Whilst some will view her as a wronged and betrayed spouse, the more cynical of online commentators speculated such a decision was calculated to protect Mrs Elphicke’s political career. Another view was a divorce would protect the Elphicke’s shared financial assets from any civil action that might occur in the wake of his conviction.

It is unclear if there is truth in these theories, but speculation has increased in the wake of Charlie Elphicke’s sentencing. Journalists attending the hearing at Southwark Crown Court revealed Mrs Elphicke had provided a statement to the court to reduce the severity of the sentence given to her husband. This might be understandable for a couple who have spent so long together and who share two children, but there’s more…

After Mrs Justice Whipple handed down an immediate two-year prison sentence, Natalie Elphicke MP released the following prepared statement:

“I fully support Charlie in his appeal against both his convictions and today’s excessive sentence.The court seems to be on a bit of a mission, it entirely ignored the report of a highly experienced probation officer as well as sentencing guidelines. There is no doubt that Charlie behaved badly. However, everyone, Charlie included, has the right to a fair trial, and I don’t believe that he has had one.”

This response is baffling.

At the very least, it exhibits an astonishing lack of self-awareness. At worst, this is evidence of a serving parliamentarian refusing to recognise sexual assault as a serious crime. The standout phrase is surely “There is no doubt that Charlie behaved badly” — a hugely irresponsible comment for a Member of Parliament to make about a convicted sex offender, let alone one belonging to a party that recently pledged to take abuse against women more seriously. How can that be the case, when they have an MP publicly declaring their disbelief of survivors in the wake of a criminal conviction?

Just a cursory glance at the details of the case against Charlie Elphicke make clear that it was far, far more than the misbehaviour his wife seeks to excuse it as. It involved two different women — who did not know each other — and assaults that were almost ten years apart. They involved a significant power element: one victim was a member of Parliamentary Staff, working for Mr Elphicke. At sentencing, Mrs Justice Whipple referred to this in describing his actions as a “gross abuse of power”.

The attacks involved considerable and determined physical force as well, with the prosecution noting the two victims provided highly similar accounts. The first victim was in her 30s at the time of the assault in 2007 and recounted that:

“He tried to kiss me and I moved my head, he pushed me down by my shoulders, he had his knee between my legs and he was groping my breast.”

The lasting effects of these assaults on the victims were made apparent in impact statements read out to the court by prosecutor Eloise Marshall QC. The first victim said:

“The effect of what he did to me has had a lasting impact. I have found that I have a significantly increased sense of anxiety and caution when meeting and working with any man. I feel like things I once enjoyed have been taken away from me. It was not easily recovered from. It took me a long time to get back on my feet and to be able to be stable in my home and job again.”

The second victim added:

“I remember feeling trapped, frightened and constantly on edge. I used to freeze every time that door would open or every time I was left alone with him.My mental health suffered because of the emotional and psychological turmoil that he put me through. When he did what he was found guilty for and abused his position of authority, I was incredibly vulnerable; left with feelings of complete powerlessness and inferiority. Because of his acts, he stole a large part of my self-worth and my self-esteem, and he crushed a part of my spirit.”

If these testimonies aren’t persuasive enough as to the former MPs black character, Natalie has also been humiliated by her vile spouse. Multiple news outlets have reported that, as a trained lawyer, she reviewed the case evidence against her husband before his trial. In doing so, she purportedly exposed a major difference between her husband’s explanation of events relating to one complainant and what the case file evidence showed, forcing Elphicke to confess that he had lied to both her and the police.

It is difficult to comprehend, personal ties notwithstanding, why an educated and professional woman would continue to take the side of a proven liar and self-confessed adulterer, in the wake of his conviction. It was understandable that, as a wife, she would support her husband through an investigation if she thought him innocent. But a conviction, established through a unanimous verdict of guilt, on multiple counts of the same offence, should clarify that Charlie Elphicke is far from an innocent man.

Most people are aware of the difficulties in prosecuting sexual offences: the prosecution rate is low and, in a lot of cases, it is hard to gather sufficient evidence for a jury to be sure ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the alleged offences occurred. But in Charlie Elphicke’s case, after hearing and reviewing all the evidence, the jury of eight women and three men were all sure enough to agree on his guilt. The suggestion of an unfair trial or a miscarriage of justice is both laughable, and a direct reflection on the arrogance of the defendant who still refuses to accept he has done anything wrong.

In describing his offences as ‘bad behaviour’, it’s clear that Natalie recognises the unacceptability, if not the criminality. But how could anyone reach such a conclusion?

Wishful thinking could be to blame. If you have been married to a man for over twenty-five years, it may be all too easy to imagine that you know him — his character, his moral values and weaknesses. It must be difficult to consider that you could have misjudged them and that they are capable of awful acts. Adding children into the equation complicates things further: would anyone want to consider that the father of their children is a sexual predator? Wouldn’t they do all they can to hold on to the last vestiges of hope, even if that meant supporting an appeal?

Elphicke’s barrister, Ian Winter QC, made clear to the court that the case has devastated his family:

“Shortly, Mr Elphicke’s descent into total disgrace will be complete. He has lost his wife, his daughter of 20 years is estranged from him as a direct result of his conviction, and his son, aged 13, has received sustained and quite vicious bullying at his school.”

Is Natalie trying to think the best of him because she cannot bring herself to face up to the awful reality? If so, few could blame her. Along with her children, she is another victim of Charlie Elphicke’s behaviour, and has undoubtedly suffered because of it. Until all appeal routes are exhausted, it is possible to deny the outcome of the case and not have to accept it. Accepting that someone you love(d) has done something so awful, and is imprisoned for it, cannot be easy to come to terms with. Considering things this way, it is hard not to feel some sympathy.

That being said, it does not exclude her from professional scrutiny. In deciding to stand by him post-conviction, she has risked extreme public embarrassment if an appeal fails. Obviously, it does not look good for an MP to be publicly supporting a convicted sex offender. That she would take such a risk is a testament to her loyalty to her husband, but raises red flags as to the soundness of her judgement. In questioning the outcome of her husband’s case, she loses the confidence of other survivors in her constituency and beyond.

On a wider level, Natalie has dealt another blow to the Conservative Party that has been facing sustained criticism for the way it has handled a rape allegation made against another serving MP. It is both telling and unsurprising that the Conservative Party has not released a statement, either about Charlie Elphicke’s conviction or Natalie’s ill-advised decision to keep supporting him.

That silence says more than words ever could, about how sexual abuse is still seen as something to be ignored where possible, by those governing our country.

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UK-based freelance writer. Get in touch: lisa.wade@cantab.net

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Lisa Wade

Lisa Wade

UK-based freelance writer. Get in touch: lisa.wade@cantab.net

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