Former Conservative co-treasurer Peter Cruddas has won £180,000 in libel damages over allegations in the Sunday Times that he charged for secret meetings with prime minister David Cameron.
The High Court in London also said the newspaper would have to pay £500,000 in costs. It said that it was “dismayed” with the outcome and planned to appeal.
While this should have been a victory for the Cameron, Cruddas said that the behaviour of the party when the story broke made the situation much worse, particularly Cameron’s knee jerk reaction that it was “quite right” he resigned..
The Conservative Party cut me off within two hours of the story breaking and did not want to hear my side of the story.
I was constructively dismissed from my role as party treasurer and made to feel like an outcast as the prime minister and the party lined up to criticise me on television and radio.
This hurt me immensely and further damaged my reputation.
To make matters worse, other senior figures have attacked Cameron for his reaction. Mr Justice Tugendhat, the judge in the case, said Cruddas had “suffered public humiliation from the prime minister”.
And in a blog on Conservative Home, Lord Ashcroft said he hoped the prime minister would now issue an apology.
I hope that Mr Cameron will now offer Mr Cruddas an apology for his criticism of him, and for forcing him to step down as Treasurer with such haste when Mr Cruddas was fulfilling his unpaid role well and effectively. That would be the right thing to do.
Surely the instincts of our Party should always be to stand by one of its own until it has been proved that an individual has acted illegally or improperly even if it may be politically appropriate in certain circumstances to suspend someone pending an outcome.
There are a number of questions that need to be answered over the coming weeks. In the aftermath of The Sunday Times’s story, the party set up an inquiry under Lord Gold to look into funding, in general, and the allegations against Mr Cruddas, in particular.
Given today’s judgment, I strongly suspect that Mr Cruddas has no appetite for giving evidence to such an inquiry, especially since he no longer has any serious allegations to answer. Perhaps, given that the inquiry was an over-the top, knee-jerk reaction to what has now proved to be a false premise, it needs to be quietly wound up sooner rather than later.
This whole episode involving Mr Cruddas has not been our Party’s finest hour.