A UK cabinet minister has resigned over claims he knew about a former aide’s role in the “sabotage” of a rape trial.
Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns denied knowing Tory assembly candidate Ross England made claims about the victim’s sexual history in an April 2018 trial.
But BBC Wales discovered Mr Cairns was emailed about it in August 2018 – four months before Mr England was chosen as Vale of Glamorgan candidate.
The BBC has been told Mr Cairns intends to stand in the general election.
He was the longest-serving minister in the cabinet, after being appointed in 2016.
Mr Cairns, who represented the Vale of Glamorgan, said he only became aware of Mr England’s role in the trial’s collapse when the story broke last week.
In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Mr Cairns said: “You will be aware of allegations relating to the actions of a party employee and candidate for the Welsh assembly elections in the Vale of Glamorgan.
“This is a very sensitive matter, and in light of continued speculation, I write to tender my resignation as secretary of state for Wales.
“I will co-operate in full with the investigation under the Ministerial Code which will now take place and I am confident I will be cleared of any breach or wrong doing.”
In his response, Mr Johnson said he was “extremely grateful for all the work you have done in the role as Secretary of State since March 2016”.
He added: “In particular, I would like to put on record my gratitude for all the support you have given to this government in ensuring we honour the commitment to the people that we leave the European Union.
“Given your long service as Secretary of State, you can be proud of your record of delivery for the people of Wales, in particular in ensuring the abolition of tolls on the Severn bridges.”
The BBC has been told Mr Cairns intends to contest the Vale of Glamorgan seat in the 12 December general election.
But a Welsh Conservatives source questioned whether he should, saying: “If you can’t hold the line as a Cabinet minister, how could you credibly be a candidate”.
Mr England, who was selected as the candidate for the Vale of Glamorgan, said he had given an “honest answer” while giving evidence at the rape trial of his friend James Hackett.
He told the court he had a casual sexual relationship with the complainant – which she denied – despite the judge making it clear that evidence of the sexual history of the victim was inadmissible.
Judge Stephen John Hopkins QC said to him: “Why did you say that? Are you completely stupid?
“You have managed single-handed, and I have no doubt it was deliberate on your part, to sabotage this trial… get out of my court.”
Hackett was subsequently convicted of rape at a retrial.
Mr England was suspended as a candidate and as an employee last week after details of the court case emerged and the party said a “full investigation will be conducted”.
At the time of his selection to stand as an AM, Mr Cairns endorsed Mr England as a “friend and colleague” with whom “it will be a pleasure to campaign”.
On Tuesday, the rape victim called for Mr Cairns to quit, saying: “If he’d come out and condemned Ross [England] in the first instance, he wouldn’t be in this position.
“I would like an apology from the party and Alun Cairns for selecting him in the first place. I can’t believe that not one senior Welsh Conservative has said that what he did was wrong.”
Paul Davies, leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh assembly, said: “I am sorry to see Alun resign today as the secretary of state for Wales however, under the circumstances, this was the right decision for him.
“I would like to thank Alun for his service to Wales as our secretary of state where he brought an end to the Severn Bridge tolls which will leave a lasting legacy on the Welsh economy.”
Plaid Cymru candidate Liz Saville Roberts said: “I hope that Alun Cairns’ resignation as secretary of state proves to be some solace to the woman at the centre of this case, who still has received no apology from the Conservative Party.
“Such conduct is neither befitting of a government minister, nor of a Member of Parliament. Mr Cairns should do the honourable thing and withdraw from the election – and if he doesn’t, the Conservative party should insist he withdraws.”
Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “What an appalling and unnecessary experience for the victim.
“The trial should never have been sabotaged – Ross England should never have been selected as a candidate, Alun Cairns should never have tried to cover up what he knew. When will the Tories finally do the right thing?”