Why this story?
In 2004, Naomi Campbell took the Mirror Group to court, arguing that its newspaper, the Mirror, had invaded her privacy when it published images of her leaving a drug rehab centre. In hearing the case at appeal, Baroness Hale, then a law lord, explained how this case summoned a core principle about the public interest. “The free exchange of information and ideas on matters relevant to the organisation of the economic, social and political life of the country is crucial to any democracy,” she said. “Without this, it can scarcely be called a democracy at all. This includes revealing information about public figures, especially those in elective office, which would otherwise be private but is relevant to their participation in public life.”
It is a statement that has formed the basis of a judgment that Tortoise has fought hard for – in a case 17 years later, which has just concluded after more than a year of arguments, and tens of thousands of pounds in costs.
It relates to a former MP and government minister, Andrew Griffiths, who was found by a family court judge to have abused and sexually assaulted his wife, Kate Griffiths, over a number of years. All details would have been kept secret, if Tortoise and PA Media had not argued that it was in the public interest for it to be published.
The judge who heard Tortoise’s case returned to this 2004 quote by Baroness Hale and the principle she argued, to outline why it is right that we know what Andrew Griffiths was found to have done. It is a principle worth fighting for. Basia Cummings, Editor
Last November, Andrew Griffiths, the former Conservative MP for Burton and Uttoxeter, and a minister of state in the last government, was found by a judge at Derby Family Court to have abused and repeatedly raped his former wife, Kate Griffiths.
Despite his denials, the judge decided on the balance of probabilities that Andrew Griffiths had, while an MP and a minister, abused his wife, who is now an MP, as well as strangling and violently assaulting her on a number of occasions, including pushing her onto a bed when she was heavily pregnant. He had also subjected her to threatening, controlling and coercive behavior over the course of their decade-long relationship.
It is an extraordinary ruling about a former member of parliament. And it all would have remained secret had we not fought in the courts for over a year to report the facts of this case.
Today, the Court of Appeal has decided that:
- The former MP can be publicly named, following a year-long battle by Tortoise Media and PA Media.
- An appeal against permission to publish brought by the disgraced ‘sexting’ former MP is dismissed.
- The press can now report the evidence of sexual assault, coercion, controlling behaviour and domestic violence inflicted on Kate Griffiths over almost a decade.
The full story of our court battle will be published in the Slow Newscast in January.
In 2006, Kate Kniveton met Andrew Griffiths. He had been pursuing a political career for some years and was deeply embedded in the Conservative Party. By 2008, they were living together. Two years later, Griffiths was elected as MP for the Burton and Uttoxter seat, and the couple married in 2013 with a reception in the Houses of Parliament. As he climbed the political ladder, becoming first a government whip and then, in 2018, a minister of state for small business, Kate Griffiths, an Exeter university Classics graduate, worked in hospitality for their local football club, Burton Albion.
The first time the world would have glimpsed that all was not well in their marriage came via an explosive scoop in the Sunday Mirror in July 2018, which reported that Andrew Griffiths had bombarded two young women with more than 2,000 explicit and in some cases, sexually violent and degrading text messages. Some were too extreme to be published. In many of the messages, he boasted of his power as a member of the government. He had also sent the women – both of them his constituents – hundreds of pounds, and offered to rent a flat to meet for sex. Just weeks before, his wife had given birth to their child.
On the day she found out about the sexting scandal, Kate Griffiths told her husband their marriage was over. The following day, he resigned his ministerial position. He was, he said, “deeply ashamed” of the “untold distress” he had caused her. Four months later, he admitted himself to a mental health clinic because he had concerns he was suicidal, he told the Sunday Times in an exclusive interview. In that interview, he said that the context for the sexting was a mental health breakdown, caused by abuse in his own childhood. He said that he was determined to continue to fight for his career – which he did.
After Kate Griffiths left him in July 2018, Andrew Griffiths still saw their infant child regularly. This contact was usually supervised by Kate’s parents, but the arrangement broke down – Kate Griffiths said he became hostile and aggressive. She was also concerned about his mental health. In June 2019, Andrew Griffiths made an application to the family court: he wanted a judge to order that he should be able to see his child.
Over the months of preparation for the court hearing that would ensue, Kate Griffiths lodged allegations of domestic abuse and coercive control. She raised early on her discomfort about the nature of the sexual relationship she’d had with her husband – and ultimately said that he had sexually coerced and raped her on a number of occasions. Court delays, a shortage of judges and the Covid-19 pandemic meant that it was not until November 2020 that she was cross-examined on the witness stand.
The new MP for Burton and Uttoxeter, Kate Griffiths had won her disgraced husband’s seat in the 2019 general election, explicitly stating that she wanted to support victims of domestic abuse. But nothing of her own experiences was yet known publicly.
Kate Griffiths’s evidence to the Derby Family Court was harrowing. She said that her husband had constantly diminished her, that he had insisted on controlling her through money – citing his MP’s income which he regarded as “his”. She said he had thrown food and various household items at her causing injuries, that he had pushed her onto a bed when she was heavily pregnant, and she described episodes of temper which the judge later characterized as “a frightening loss of control”. Andrew Griffiths made physical and verbal assaults on both her and members of her family, which, said the judge, “upset everyone present and scared his wife.” All of this came in addition to ongoing sexual coercion and rape.
Her Honour Judge Williscroft noted that Andrew Griffiths’s own evidence in denial of these allegations was “unconvincing”. She repeatedly stated that his manner of giving evidence was “instructive” – judge-speak for the way he attempted to minimize, re-frame and re-interpret his wife’s experience of his behavior towards her. The judge noted that he attempted to discredit Kate Griffiths’ account of events by undermining her as “exaggerated and theatrical in court,” and by downplaying his own actions.
In her judgment, HHJ Williscroft said that after the sexting scandal broke, Andrew Griffiths made indirect threats that his wife would be made homeless if she did not go along with a publicity photograph he hoped would help save his career. Later, he tried to discourage her from giving evidence against him in court by telling her that as a former MP, he would be believed by the judge while her allegations of sexual abuse would not.
In fact, the judge found Kate Griffiths to be “a fair witness”, that her account was told “without embellishment,” and that her evidence “rang true and convincing.”
Normally, the “findings of fact” in cases in the family court remain secret. Under a law enacted in 1960, it is a contempt of court to speak about what happens in a private family hearing. So in the Griffiths v Griffiths case, the findings of serious domestic abuse set out by Her Honour Judge Williscroft would normally have remained secret too. Kate Griffiths would have been banned – forever – from telling even her family and friends about what the court had determined had happened to her, had I at Tortoise, and Brian Farmer at PA Media, not fought for over a year to publish.
To reach this point, for you to be able to read this story, we had first to ask HHJ Williscroft for the right to read her judgment, by having it published with names redacted. Initially, she said no. We asked again, making fuller public interest arguments: this time, it was emailed to us, on condition of absolute confidentiality. Staggered at what we read in the document, Brian Farmer and I made an application to publish it. After a wait of approaching six months, in July we spent two days in front of a High Court judge arguing that when an elected MP has been found in a court of law to have repeatedly raped and abused his wife while in office, the public has a right to know.
Although she was, in truth, shaken when she first heard that Tortoise wished to report on what her ex-husband had done, Kate Griffiths has strongly supported the media’s application to publish. As a rape survivor, she has chosen to waive her right to anonymity. She said: “I promised I would be a voice for those who have been victims of domestic abuse. I recognise the unique position I am in to campaign to improve the outcomes of cases such as this, for those who endure domestic violence, and the actions taken to protect the children involved.”
In the run up to the initial hearing, Andrew Griffiths opposed the judgment being published at all, even anonymously. Then, the former MP’s position switched. He said that every detail in the judgment should be published – even the few, particularly intimate details that his ex-wife had requested be redacted. His only condition was that all names, including his own, should be removed.
The high court judge did not agree. Exceptionally, we were given permission to publish.
But then, Andrew Griffiths appealed.
And so we had to fight again.
“There is never any discussion of her sexual needs that I could see.”
The descriptions of the sexual coercion in the Derby judgment make distressing reading. If she resisted her husband’s pressure to have sex in ways that he wanted, she would face his anger and hostility, Kate Griffiths told the judge. “I told him verbally at first, I laughed and said I don’t feel comfortable with that” she said in evidence, adding; “I wouldn’t have dared say anything else. Occasionally, I would say no when I was feeling brave enough.” The judge found that Griffiths accused his wife of being frigid “in order to persuade her to give in to his sexual demands.”
The sexual violence, coercion and rape – found on the civil standard rather than the criminal standard of proof – included pressure to give him oral sex against her will and rough sex on their wedding night, the memory of which the judge noted, still clearly distressed her. Kate Griffiths’s description of the start of their relationship was “early evidence that his own needs took precedence … right from the start,” the judge said.
Coercion was part of Griffiths’ general modus operandi: the judge considered that his attempt to blame his wife for his second suicide attempt, after she had left him and refused to allow him to see their child on just a single occasion, to be “an example of continuing coercive behaviour… She had good reason to be anxious about his mental health right then,” the judge concluded.
While the abuse continued, Andrew Griffiths was able to speak on, amend, and vote on legislation that affected some of the most vulnerable members of society, including the Domestic Abuse Bill. Meanwhile, he helped to found Women to Win, the organization dedicated to electing more Conservative women to Parliament. He also publicly supported the Upskirting Bill, which made the taking of clandestine sexualised photographs of women illegal.
Tortoise argued in court that abusing a position of trust as an MP is another reason why publication was in the public interest. At the Derby family court hearing, Andrew Griffiths in fact accepted that he had abused his position as an MP by threatening one of two other women he had affairs with that he would go to the press if she told his wife.
In her ruling allowing the media to publish the judgment, Mrs Justice Lieven recognised that Andrew Griffiths had held a “prominent and powerful position” and that his position as an MP and minister meant he was a law-maker, “including in respect of issues concerning domestic abuse.” This meant, the judge said, that there was a strong public interest in people knowing about the Derby family court’s findings of domestic abuse and rape.
Responding to the judgment, Andrew Griffiths said he was “deeply disappointed” and that he “strongly denied the allegations” put to him. He said that his aim has always been to protect his child from publicity “so that they can come to terms with these proceedings away from the glare of publicity.”
On hearing that her ex-husband’s challenge in the Court of Appeal had been dismissed, Kate Griffiths told Tortoise that she views the decision to allow the media to report as a positive step forward in a legal battle “that has taken a huge emotional and financial toll on my family.”
The full story of Griffiths v Griffiths will be told in a Tortoise podcast published in January.
Photograph Alamy Images