Exclusive: Boris Johnson blocks promotion of MP who Carrie Symonds gave evidence against in sex assault case… even though the Tory rising star was CLEARED of groping woman at Christmas party
- Richard Holden was recommended for a government post by Tory chief whip
- But Boris Johnson would not support his promotion within the party
- Mr Holden was accused of groping a woman at a Tory Christmas party in 2016
- The woman complained to Carrie Symonds who reported it to Sajid Javid
- But Mr Holden was cleared in court despite Ms Symonds’ evidence against him
A Tory MP cleared of sexual assault despite Carrie Symonds giving evidence against him in court has been barred for promotion by Boris Johnson.
Richard Holden, 35, was last month recommended for a government post by Tory chief whip Mark Spencer, but he was over-ruled by the Prime Minister.
As the MP for North West Durham, Mr Holden is part of the Conservatives’ so-called ‘Red Wall’ of former Labour seats, and has been tipped for a Cabinet future.
Richard Holden, pictured with his girlfriend Charlotte Ivers, has been barred for promotion by Boris Johnson despite being cleared of sexual assault
He has emerged as the unofficial champion of Tory MPs who are urging the Government to honour Mr Johnson’s pledge to ‘level up’ the North of England.
Mr Spencer said Mr Holden should be made a Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to a Cabinet minister, the first rung on the ministerial ladder. It came after several senior ministers told Mr Spencer that Mr Holden was one of the most talented MPs in the latest Commons intake.
But the appointment was dropped after it was made clear Mr Johnson would not allow it.
The Prime Minister has said privately that he will not promote Mr Holden because he fears his fiancee Miss Symonds would disapprove, according to well-placed sources.
He also blocked a plan to give Mr Holden a senior Downing Street post last year.
The Tory MP, 35, was accused of groping a woman at a Christmas party in December 2016, who then made the allegation to Carrie Symonds, then a special adviser to Sajid Javid
Mr Holden was forced to step down as an aide to then-defence secretary Michael Fallon in February 2017 after he was accused of groping a woman at a Christmas party in December 2016.
His resignation and the sex assault claim were leaked to the Buzzfeed news website at the height of the ‘Pestminster’ scandal in November 2017, when several MPs were accused of sexual misdemeanours.
Mr Holden, who has worked for the Tory party since 2007, was prosecuted at London’s Southwark Crown Court in May 2018.
The court heard that the alleged victim had not complained to anyone for nearly two months when she made the allegation of sexual assault to Miss Symonds, then a special adviser to Sajid Javid, who was the communities secretary at the time.
The alleged victim said she had not reported the alleged incident sooner because she ‘didn’t realise it was a crime… this was just a thing that happened at a party’.
A friend encouraged her to come forward to prevent it happening to other women, she added. She also informed Anne Milton, the Tory deputy chief whip.
Mr Holden was forced to step down as an aide to then-defence secretary Michael Fallon in February 2017 after the allegations
The alleged victim told the court that one of Mr Holden’s hands ‘went down behind my skirt and between my tights and underwear’. Mr Holden strongly denied the allegations. His barrister said the pair had exchanged ‘flirty’ messages before the incident.
Miss Symonds and Mr Javid, who was home secretary by the time of the court case, both gave evidence in support of the alleged victim. A written statement by Miss Symonds was read out to the court, and Mr Javid said a Conservative official told him that Holden ‘grabbed the bare flesh’ of the alleged victim.
But prosecutors told the jury to ignore Mr Javid’s statement because it clashed with the account she had given to the court. Mr Holden was actually charged with sexual assault by touching her clothes, not her skin, as Mr Javid had said.
Baroness Stowell gave evidence on Mr Holden’s behalf
However, the MP’s legal team accepted Mr Javid’s evidence as they believed it showed the alleged victim had changed her story and lacked credibility.
One of Mr Holden’s former bosses, former Lords leader Baroness Stowell, who is now chairman of the Charity Commission, was among those to give evidence on his behalf.
Baroness Stowell told the court that while it was crucially important for people who had been sexually attacked to come forward, it was incumbent on women such as her to speak up for those they believed were falsely accused.
After a five-day trial, it took a jury less than half an hour to clear Mr Holden. Judge Deborah Taylor told him he left the court ‘without a stain on his character’ and she hoped he could resume his political career. After the verdict, Mr Holden said he had been through a ‘Kafkaesque living nightmare’. It had wrecked his career as a Tory aide, nearly destroyed his relationship with his political reporter girlfriend Charlotte Ivers, and cost him £150,000 in legal fees and lost earnings, he added.
The PPS job snub was not the first time Mr Holden, one of the most popular Conservative MPs, had been blocked for a key post by Mr Johnson.
A plan to give him a senior position in the Downing Street press office last year was scrapped at the Prime Minister’s behest.
Mr Holden put his court ordeal behind him at the last election, overturning a Labour majority of nearly 9,000
A source said the Tory leader appeared to have been influenced by baseless claims against Lancashire-born Mr Holden, who was educated at a state school and has a degree from the London School of Economics. The source said: ‘Every time there’s talk of giving Richard a job, he [Mr Johnson] mutters, ‘No, I’ve heard he’s a bad man’. It’s all nonsense.
‘Whenever he has actually come into contact with Richard, he said how much he liked him.’
Mr Holden put his court ordeal behind him at the last election, overturning a Labour majority of nearly 9,000 to become the first Conservative MP for North West Durham. He has since campaigned to protect young people from the dangers of gambling and to scrap the ‘toilet tax’, the levy on public conveniences charged by some town halls.
There is no suggestion that Miss Symonds – who won praise in 2018 for her successful campaign to stop the early release on parole of black cab rapist John Worboys – is responsible for blocking Mr Holden’s promotion.
A No 10 spokesman denied that Mr Johnson was responsible for blocking the promotion.
Mr Holden and Mr Spencer both declined to comment.
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