MP David Ruffley has broken his silence about a police caution he received in March for assaulting a woman.
Pressure has been mounting on the Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket MP since details of the incident, which involved an assault on his former partner, emerged last month.
A growing number of people have called for him to stand down and women’s rights group, the Bury Fawcett Society, has requested his deselection as the local Conservative candidate for next year’s general election.
This week, a letter to Mr Ruffley from the Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, The Very Rev Frances Ward, copied to 11 others, was leaked to the media.
In it, Dr Ward said she believed Mr Ruffley had lost the confidence of a large number of his supporters and that his position as MP was ‘untenable’.
Cllr Joanna Spicer, chairman of Suffolk’s health and wellbeing board, said she was pleased the dean had taken a stand.
She said: “The bigger picture here is the Church of England speaking out to condemn domestic violence. There will be women victims of domestic abuse all over Suffolk who will be cheering her on.”
In response, Mr Ruffley issued the following statement through his solicitors: “In March this year, an incident occurred between me and my former partner resulting in inappropriate action on my part, which I deeply regret, in respect of which I accepted a police caution for common assault. The incident was dealt with by the police and I accepted responsibility for my actions at the time.
“Some time later, I telephoned my former partner to apologise. I am pleased to be able to say that she has accepted my apology and we both now consider the matter closed.
“I have refrained from making any public statement on this matter as it is a deeply personal matter. It is my understanding that my former partner wishes the incident to remain private.
“I regret this matter in its entirety and the position in which I put my former partner and I now ask that her privacy be respected.
“I wish to stress that I would never condone domestic violence under any circumstances.”
A spokeswoman for the Bury Fawcett Society said she was ‘absolutely appalled’ by Mr Ruffley’s statement, ‘which is not only way too late but also contradictory’.
She said: “He cannot publicly condemn domestic violence while admitting that he himself was involved in an incident. As we have said from the start, we firmly believe that he is no longer credible as an MP.”
The Bury Conservative Association, which has continued to support the former shadow police minister, is holding a meeting of its executive committee on Thursday that it has brought forward from September.
Its chairman Andrew Speed said: “The executive will seek to discuss the current situation with him amongst other items of business.”
Tim passmore, Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said domestic abuse is not acceptable ‘in any circumstance’ and is a matter he takes ‘extremely seriously’.
He added: “If I was a perpetrator of a crime of domestic abuse or domestic violence, my own view is my position would be untenable and I would resign - now I’m in a different position to an MP but I want to make that clear.”
The matter has now been referred to the Government’s Chief Whip, Michael Gove.