How a former government minister abused the secrecy of the family courts in an attempt to hide the truth
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
This episode contains descriptions of physical and sexual abuse that some listeners may find distressing.
I’m Basia Cummings and you’re listening to the Slow Newscast – and I want to start this podcast by telling you about something once said in the court of appeal here in the UK, back in 2004.
The quote comes from a case relating to the supermodel, Naomi Campbell. Well, really, it’s a case about privacy and the public interest. It’s about what we, as a public, should have a right to know about the powerful.
Baroness Hale, the appeal judge, said back then: “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 went on: “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’s a statement that I’m reading to you, because it has formed the basis of a judgment that we at Tortoise have fought hard for – in a case 17 years after Baroness Hale wrote those words. A case which has just concluded, after more than a year of legal arguments.
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, who is herself now an MP.
All details would have been kept secret, if we – that’s Tortoise, and our partners in this story, PA Media, hadn’t argued that it was in the public interest for it to be published. It is a case that fits into a bigger debate, about coercive control, abuse, and rape within a marriage.
It’s a story I’ve worked on for many months, with our journalist Louise Tickle. And I’m handing over to Louise.
Clip: phone ringing
Louise Tickle: Hi.
Lucy Reed: Hello. Okay. I thought you’d like to know we’ve got the judgment.
Louise: Okay. All right. Hit me with it.
Lucy Reed: The appeal was dismissed, it’s going to be published.
Louise: Oh my God.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Until recently, everything I’m about to tell you was a secret. A secret that a once-powerful man fought hard to make sure would never see the light of day. And to reveal it, I’m going to tell you a story about our family courts.
BBC Radio 4, PM, Friday 10th December 2021: The court of appeal has said, it can now be revealed that a family court judge accepted that the former conservative minister Andrew Griffiths had raped his wife.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Politics and power. Control and abuse.
BBC Radio 4: The findings were initially subject to a privacy order but two journalists argued the judge’s ruling was in the public interest.
Louise Tickle, narrating: I’m Louise Tickle, and for over a year now I’ve been trying to report this story.
About how Andrew Griffiths, a former Conservative MP and government minister, tried to manipulate the privacy of the family courts to cover up a judge’s findings of domestic violence, coercive control and rape.
In this episode of the Slow Newscast: Griffiths v. Griffiths – and a fight to tell the truth.
Andrew Griffiths: My name is Andrew Griffiths and in 2010, I was elected as your member of parliament for Burton and Uttoxeter. This is a great place to live. It’s a great place to bring up your kids and a great place to do business.
Louise Tickle: How did you meet Andrew Griffiths?
Kate Griffiths: I first met Andrew at the open primary which was held at Burton Albion back in November, 2006. And he was one of four candidates that night.
Louise Tickle, narrating: This is Kate Griffiths. She’s the current Conservative MP for Burton and Uttoxeter. She was 36 when she met Andrew Griffiths. He was a politician, who was going places. Back then, he was chief of staff to Theresa May – way back, before she became Prime Minister.
And he was vying to be Burton’s Conservative Member of Parliament.
Kate Griffiths: I was working for a company based over in Derby, an electronics company, and I was their logistics manager and I’ve been a member of the local conservative association for many, many years, since I was a teenager.
Louise Tickle: What did you think of him?
Kate Griffiths: I think everybody in the room was impressed. He came over very well, very personable, very likeable, and so much so that he won it on the first ballot.
Louise Tickle, narrating: She was so impressed, she joined his campaign team.
And 18 months after that first meeting, he finally persuaded her to go out for a drink.
Kate Griffiths: We had a lovely evening. He was great, he was funny, he was a charmer and yeah, I just thought he was an all around good guy.
Louise Tickle, narrating: He was the perfect boyfriend.
Kate Griffiths: He was very attentive, we went on lots of lovely dates, meals out, and everything seemed completely normal.
Louise Tickle: It sounds really nice.
Kate Griffiths: It was.
Louise Tickle, narrating: It took Kate a while to agree to that first date because back then, Andrew had a girlfriend. A fiancee, in fact.
But he convinced Kate that – while yes, he was still living with this woman; they were in fact living separate lives.
Kate Griffiths: And he was so convincing with this, that after a period of quite some time, I thought that this must be true.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Within six months, things had got serious.
Kate Griffths: He started telling me very early on in the relationship that he’d never felt like this before, we were going to get married, one day I was going to be Mrs. Griffiths. It was, and he was with hindsight looking back on it, he was constantly texting me.
Louise Tickle: Did it just feel really attentive?
Kate Griffiths: It did.
Louise Tickle: Did you love him?
Kate Griffths: Yes. Absolutely. I wouldn’t have ended up in the relationship and married if I didn’t love him.
Louise Tickle: Did you trust him?
Kate Griffiths: I trusted him for a significant part at the start of the relationship.
Louise Tickle, narrating: And professionally, things were going well for Andrew Griffiths.
In May 2010, he became an MP, winning the Burton seat for the Conservatives.
Kate Griffiths: It was amazing. It was a fantastic, fantastic victory. The seat had been held by Labor for some years then and it was just a really, you know, a massive celebration that night and we were very much together. Everyone knew we were together.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Three years later, the couple were married at the church attached to the Houses of Parliament, St Mary’s Undercroft.
Louise Tickle: The pictures of your wedding do look absolutely beautiful.
Kate Griffiths: It was, it was beautiful. The wedding itself was beautiful but even then, even though I loved him, I do actually remember even on my wedding day thinking, am I doing the right thing?
But I put that down to wedding nerves because so many people say the same thing don’t they, on their wedding day? They have nerves, they wonder if it’s right.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Andrew’s political star was rising. He seemed focused on women’s rights, and equality.
He helped to found the organisation “Women to Win” in 2005, encouraging more Conservative women to stand for Parliament.
He focused on gender equality at the top of business; and he launched a campaign to encourage more fathers to take paternity leave.
In 2018, after Theresa May became Prime Minister, he campaigned for the Upskirting Bill to become law – to ban the surreptitious taking of sexually intrusive photographs.
And in the background, there was Kate, who had slotted happily into the role of constituency wife.
Louise Tickle: Being married to an MP and later a minister, what’s that like?
Kate Griffiths: It’s crazy busy. I worked full-time as well, I obviously did everything at home, I was the homemaker, I did all that. I looked after Andrew, I did everything for him down to packing his bag to go back down to London each week to down to the last cufflink, I did absolutely everything and he often used to say I couldn’t do this job without you but it means you have very little free time, very little time to yourself.
And I knew that was the role that was expected of me and I was happy to do it. It was his, you know, lifetime ambition to be a member of parliament and I was happy to support that because I loved him.
Louise Tickle: Were you proud of him?
Kate Griffiths: Very, very proud of him. Yeah.
Louise Tickle, narrating: In 2016, immediately after Theresa May became prime minister, Andrew Griffiths was made a Government Whip, then in early 2018 he was appointed as a minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
At home and in parliament the couple had a busy social life.
Andrew was earning good money – over £100,000 a year – and in 2018, both in their mid 40s, Andrew and Kate Griffiths had a much-wanted baby.
To outsiders, things seemed pretty great.
Louise Tickle: What do you think your life looked like then? To strangers?
Kate Griffiths: Ideal. We had lots of people saying you’re the ideal couple. We’d be out in public, you know, holding hands, smiling, laughing, joking, it was very much, his public persona was very different to his, to his private one.
Louise Tickle: Do you think it was an image that he constructed?
Kate Griffiths: Yes. I think a lot of it when we were out there in the public eye was, looking back on it now, probably a little bit over the top. It was, he was very affectionate in public… behind closed doors it was very, very different.
Louise Tickle, narrating: The relationship had become difficult. Andrew had changed.
Kate Griffiths: He wasn’t, he wasn’t interested in my life. In fact, he constantly, this is some years into the relationship, he constantly used to sort of belittle my job, what I did, my salary, everything to the point where, I used to be very confident, happy, outgoing and I can see that by the end of that relationship I’d just become a sort of shadow of my former self.
I got to the point where I hardly said anything when we went out because when I did we’d get back in the car and he’d say, why did you say that you stupid… and it just became easier to just go out, sit there quietly, smile, look the part of the dutiful wife and get on with the evening.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Around Burton, Andrew was a big cheese. Remember, he’d taken the seat from Labour, winning it three times in a row, making it a safe seat for the Conservatives.
And he worked really hard for small business; Burton has several breweries, it’s a big point of pride and business for the area – and in 2015 he was voted Parliamentarian of the year by the Campaign for Real Ale for his commitment to reducing taxes on alcohol.
In Westminster, he sat on two committees. On one of them, the Committee of Selection – the members nominate which MPs should sit on the various committees which exist to hold government to account. It might sound dull but it is in fact, really powerful.
But it really wouldn’t be that surprising if you had never heard of Andrew Griffiths.
That is until 2018 – the year his private life exploded all over the front pages of the British tabloids.
Alan Selby: I’m the daddy with the power, I’m daddy with the naughtiest streak. I want to be able to lift your skirts over dinner and show my friends.
Louise Tickle, narrating: In June that year Andrew Griffiths began messaging one of his constituents, a 28 year old barmaid called Imogen Treharne.
Alan Selby: If you need money, you just need to ask. It’s fine, baby. Tell me what you want and I will arrange something but I’m going to need something fucking filthy to put a smile on my face first
Louise Tickle, narrating: The next day, June 17 – his first father’s day as a new dad – he appeared on a Sunday politics show, and that afternoon tweeted a message to his followers thanking the NHS for the care they’d given his newborn child.
At the same time he was messaging Imogen, and a friend of hers.
Over the course of two months, around 2,000 messages in total.
Messages like this one which the MP Jess Phillips, read out in Parliament:
Jess Phillips: She’s so cute, so sweet. I can’t wait to beat her. Can she take a beating? Not my words, Mr. Speaker, the words of the MP for Burton while barraging two of his female constituents with thousands of sexual text messages.
Louise Tickle, narrating: And this one…
Alan Selby: Daddy has been out making speeches and running the country, but what he really wants to be doing is licking naughty girls pussies.
Louise Tickle, narrating: This is Alan Selby, he’s a former journalist.
Alan Selby: I was a reporter on the Sunday mirror when we broke the Andrew Griffiths story.
Louise Tickle, narrating: He’s the reason we know about the texts.
Louise Tickle: And what was the first you heard about a conservative minister sending sexual text messages to two young women? How did that whole story come about?
Alan Selby: Well, it was actually exactly how you imagine a kind of national newspaper story comes in. Somebody rang the news desk and said they had some, some quite explosive claims to make about a conservative minister.
Louise Tickle, narrating: So he went to a pub in Burton to meet Imogen to find out if the allegations were true.
Alan Selby: After we’d kind of agreed, you know, a certain amount of confidentiality before we could go through things properly and discuss how we’d like to approach the story, we basically got the texts out and started reading through them.
Louise Tickle: Had did she… did she just take her phone out?
Alan Selby: Yeah. Yeah.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Imogen showed Alan two months worth of messages.
Messages between her, her friend, and Andrew Griffiths sent via Facebook and Whatsapp.
Alan Selby: That’s what really surprised me is it was, it was so unguarded. It was almost, it was almost as if he didn’t really care about getting caught.
Louise Tickle: What did you think when you first saw the actual sex messages that were coming through? What are they like?
Alan Selby: I mean at first glance there was, there were so many messages, the more you delve into it, the more it became actually quite disgusting. So whatever kind of titillation or amusement there first was it got to the point where actually, you know, looking through these more and more, this is, this is seriously, disgusting and well abusive, signs of something that was altogether unsavory to be charitable and consenting adults say a lot of things to each other and to an extent, these were consenting adults taking part in something that could be described as salacious or not to everybody’s taste but there were several points when the people on the receiving end of these messages said stop because it had crossed a line into something that was clearly not what they were interested in and clearly quite concerning to them.
This was for the gratification of somebody who enjoyed demonstrating the power that they held over somebody. And beyond that, I mean, you had graphic depictions of boasts that he had beaten women in the past, which I mean in no right thinking person’s mind is that acceptable.
Louise Tickle: And he just kept sending those messages?
Alan Selby: He did. He did. I mean he’d apologise. You can see that he’s… he’d realise that maybe he wasn’t going to be getting more of what he wanted and… kind of calmed down for a bit but I don’t think it was inspired by anything other than a kind of transactional desire to keep getting what he wanted.
Louise Tickle, narrating: The Sunday Mirror, satisfied that the sexts went beyond mere titillation, that these showed a minister abusing his power and position – decided to publish.
And on Saturday 14 July 2018, a few hours before Alan’s article went live, Andrew Griffiths resigned his ministerial post.
BBC News: Hello, good evening. A Midlands MP has resigned from his role as a government minister for sending messages of a sexual nature to two female constituents. Andrew Griffiths, who represents Burton upon Trent apologised for the embarrassment caused to the prime minister and the government saying he felt deeply ashamed…
BBC reporter: No blushes spared in Burton where someone had plastered news of Andrew Griffith’s indiscretions…
Louise Tickle: Were you surprised he didn’t resign as an MP?
Alan: Yeah. Yeah. I think, I mean, speaking frankly I think the brass neck of it is, is astonishing. I think it just demonstrates the kind of person that he is. There was, at the time, a deep level of frustration locally, not just among voters but among quite senior people, labor and conservative in Burton that he wouldn’t go… that he was just hanging around.
I think you can see this as a person who refuses to accept that, that you’ve done anything wrong and ultimately he was only going to go if he was pushed.
Louise Tickle: You’d only just had your baby when you heard news that must’ve been just horrendous to you. The sexting scandal, how did you find out?
Louise Tickle, narrating: I’m back talking with Kate Griffiths. We’re in a hotel room, in the week before Christmas.
Kate Griffiths: Our baby was three months old at the time. I was at home, I’d just had a friend round and we’d had a lovely morning. Andrew had gone down to the office, I think he’d got a meeting. I remember my friend leaving, I was giving our baby a bottle at the time and I remember him suddenly… he came bursting into the house, came straight up to me and he was so matter of fact and he just said, I’ve got some really bad news.
I said oh go on, what’s happened now? And then he said, quite calmly, I’ve been sexting two women in the constituency, I’ve just had a phone call from the Mirror, the story will break on the news… tomorrow, and then it was going to be in the Sunday papers.
And he said, I remember him saying, and it’s really awful stuff, Kate. You’re going to be horrified. And I sat there with the bottle in my hand, and then he said, aren’t you going to say anything? I remember this quite clearly because I was so calm. And I remember saying to him, no, not really, because I’ve been waiting for it for years.
My overwhelming feeling was this enormous sense of relief because I knew I wasn’t going to be coming back. I knew I was taking my baby, getting out and leaving an abusive relationship.
Louise Tickle, narrating: When the news broke, East Staffordshire Conservative Association stood by their MP.
Soon though he was back in the news again, when the Guardian published bullying allegations from three people who worked closely with Andrew.
He was later cleared of wrongdoing by the parliamentary standards committee, in regards to the sexting. The Commissioner found no evidence that he had sent the messages while he was engaged in parliamentary business.
Meanwhile, Andrew – still a Member of Parliament – checked himself into the Priory.
Three months later, he re-emerged into public view, in November, after he approached the Sunday Times with the offer of an exclusive interview.
Voiceover: “Burton MP Andrew Griffiths has spoken for the first time about his sex-text shame saying he suffered a breakdown which led to him spending 31 days in a psychiatric hospital as he struggled to come to terms with being abused as a child.
Tory Mr Griffiths, 48, says he intended to take his own life after he was exposed for sending texts, many of which were sexually explicit to barmaid Imogen Treharne and her friend.”
Louise Tickle, narrating: The Sunday Times exclusive, illustrated with a photograph of Andrew with his wife and baby, painted the picture of a man who had suffered a terrible mental health episode.
He claimed the behaviour was completely out of character.
He now recognised, he told the Sunday Times journalist, that he had terribly wronged his family, the young women he sexted, and his party.
He told the journalist that he was determined to fight for his political career – and was working on his marriage.
Kate Griffiths: When, in reality, I’d left him before that story even broke on the news.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Kate knew what others didn’t. That this was all – only the tip of the iceberg.
Louise Tickle, narrating: After the Sunday Times published, the Conservative Party dropped its investigation into his conduct, citing concerns for his mental health.
And all this while, behind the scenes…
Kate Griffiths: He was sending me threatening messages almost daily, saying how I’d got to be seen to be standing by him, believing what he was saying about his mental health in order for him to save his job. And they were daily and they were many times a day.
Louise Tickle: What kind of things did they say?
Kate Griffiths: That if I didn’t support him, I would be homeless. I’d have no money. It would be the end of me and we’ve got to support my child but that I would lose everything.
Louise Tickle, narrating: There was a question for the party – could he stay working as an MP?
On the 11th November 2019, 18 months after the scandal, the local party association voted on whether he could be their Conservative candidate at the next general election.
Members were split right down the middle, 117 in favour, 117 against.
Kate Griffiths: So he joined renew church in Uttoxeter and he got a large number of the congregation there to, to become members of the local association. And I think it was, it was their votes on the night that made it to a draw. It was a level draw on the night.
Louise Tickle: Has he always been a believer?
Kate Griffiths: Not when I was with him.
Louise Tickle: So when did the notion come about that you might stand?
Kate Griffiths: So I’d actually been thinking about it in discussions with people for, for a few months at that point and I thought you only actually in life regret those opportunities you don’t take. And so I thought, yes, I can do this. I know I can, I can do a good job, work hard, do this job, and give my child a good life.
Louise Tickle, narrating: So Kate put her name in the hat.
Andrew stepped aside.
And Kate Griffiths was selected as the candidate for Burton. This is her giving an interview to the BBC in November 2019.
Kate Griffiths speaking on the BBC: I honestly think I’m a candidate with integrity, resilience, a total commitment to the area that I live in. I love this place. It’s my home. It’s my family’s home and I thought that Burton and Uttoxeter deserved better representation, more honest, someone with integrity.
That’s why I’ve put myself forward.
Louise Tickle, narrating: And she won.
Publicly, their fortunes had switched.
Kate was now the MP for Burton, Andrew faded into the background.
It was a scandal that had upended his public life – and his private one, where a very secret battle began.
Louise Tickle, narrating: In the early months of their separation, Kate and Andrew Griffiths had come to an informal arrangement for him to see their child. He was spending time regularly with their baby, supervised by relatives. But that arrangement soon broke down.
In June 2019, while Andrew Griffiths was still Burton’s MP, Kate found out that he had applied to the family court over access.
Kate Griffiths: All I knew was that I’d got to fight to protect my child.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Chapter two. It’s the 19th January 2021. The UK is in the grip of the pandemic and we’re all working from home. An email arrives in my inbox. It’s an email I’d been waiting for.
It’s from the Family Court in Derby.
Brian Farmer: I can remember the email, for some reason I remember I was sitting at the kitchen table reading it.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Brian Farmer is a reporter at the Press Association who, for around a decade now, has been based at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Brian is the sort of journalist who just endears himself to everyone; he’s disarming, charming, and, well, you just want to tell him things.
Brian Farmer: I can’t really tell you how I found out about it but it started for me for some reason, reading about the Andrew Griffith sexting scandal and I remember thinking, I bet they’re in a family court.
In reality, all the clues were there two years ago. Mrs. Griffiths had talked about divorcing…
Louise Tickle: Yep.
Brian Farmer: …and she’d said, I can’t talk anymore because there are legal proceedings.
Kate Griffiths speaking on the BBC: I am going through a divorce. The divorce is almost finalised now and obviously for that reason, I’m not able to go into details about it.
Louise Tickle: And she’d stood for MP on a domestic abuse platform hadn’t she?
Brian Farmer: I mean really, journalists covering it then should have immediately twigged to that then, they’re in a family court.
Louise Tickle: Yeah.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Because if you’ve sat in enough family courts, you know that separated couples are likely to end up there because they’re battling over a child – either fighting to protect them from a parent they believe is a danger, or fighting to gain access to their child.
Andrew Griffiths had been exposed in a sexting scandal.
Following that, several allegations of bullying had emerged.
And so, it felt likely to us that there might be other revelations to emerge in a family court.
But family courts hear cases in private. The details of what goes on in front of the judge can’t be reported, nor can a journalist say who is involved. If you do, it’s a contempt of court. And that law exists, rightly, to protect children and their right to a private life. These are not, after all, criminal courts, they’re civil ones.
But given that this case involved an MP and a former MP, two people who have or have had power over all our lives, we thought – there might be something there.
So Brian and I asked the judge if she would release the judgement to us, two journalists, in confidence.
And eventually, the judge said yes.
And that’s how I came to be sitting in my study, on a cold January day in the middle of lockdown, reading the findings in Griffiths v Griffiths.
Brian Farmer: I remember like it was like falling off my chair moment thinking I’m not sure I’ve ever found anything quite as…
Louise Tickle: What shocked you about it? Because you’d been to loads of family court cases. What shocked you about this one?
Brian Farmer: Well the fact that you’ve got a government, someone who a government minister who’s been found to have raped someone.
Louise Tickle: On the balance of probabilities.
Brian Farmer: Well on the balance of probabilities too but I’m not saying that he was convicted of rape but he’s been found to have committed rape. I mean, you know, domestic rape is such a big issue.
Louise Tickle, narrating: The findings in the judgement were astonishing. But there is an important thing to understand about the family courts.
A criminal conviction for rape means a jury has decided they are sure – beyond reasonable doubt – that it has happened.
The civil standard of proof, which many of our courts, including family courts use, is different.
To prove an allegation, you have to convince a judge that something is more likely than not to have happened.
And this is the test Her Honour Judge Williscroft applied to make her findings.
Reading from Judge Williscroft’s judgement: I accept that Kate Griffiths proved in her oral evidence to me that he did rape her when sexual intercourse took place when he had already penetrated her when she was asleep.
Brian Farmer: This isn’t, this isn’t doing the second job or using his office to run a business. This is, you know, monumentally, serious behavior.
Reading from Judge Williscroft’s judgement: She describes crying as this happened and his never apologising or recognising what he had done. Sometimes she said she would grit her teeth and let him get on with it. On others he would stop. Indeed on occasion he would be cross and kick her out of bed. She was, I find, humiliated by this.
Brian Farmer: The fact that it was starting when she was asleep, just seemed to be so…
Louise Tickle: and carrying on…
Brian Farmer: … horrific…
Louise Tickle: … after she was crying…
Louise Tickle, narrating: The judgment was a remarkable, disturbing document.
It detailed how this politician had been abusing, threatening and frightening his wife… for almost the entirety of their relationship.
He was controlling.
Reading from Judge Williscroft’s judgement: I was concerned about an occasion they were both to attend… a concert. Andrew Griffiths took the keys off his wife, knew she was crying and upset and did not want to go and did not return them until after the event.
Kate Griffiths: He didn’t like what I was wearing… my skirt wasn’t short enough, and he started getting quite angry about it… he reduced me to tears. And I remember him taking my phone off me, snatching my car keys off me, holding them high up, he was taller than me and I said, please go without me, I don’t want to come now and he bundled me out to the door, pushed me outside and said, you’re coming with me.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Physically violent.
Reading from Judge Williscroft’s judgement: He assaulted her after the Smallwood Manor Ball. He threw food and a tray at her. He accepts then he has been abusive to her verbally and hurt her when drunk.
Kate Griffiths: We’d had a really lovely dancing, lovely meal, dancing, and at the end of the evening, he was at the bar ordering some drinks and I remember a lady was also at the bar and I remember him leaning across and saying something I couldn’t hear what it was I was too far away… She got her drinks, came over to me and said, how can you bear to be with that man? And I sat there in shock and I thought what on earth has he said, he came over, I asked him he wouldn’t answer. So I said, well, I’m going to bed, Andrew. And I’d been in the room about 10 minutes and he came flying in and he flew at me and pinned me against the wall by my throat and told me never to question him again in public, not to embarrass him like that. And I was genuinely scared. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life before.
And then the next morning, he acted as if it hadn’t happened and he blamed it on drink.
Reading from Judge Williscroft’s judgement: She alleged in an argument he knelt on her on the sofa and put his hands on her throat, trying to strangle her.
Louise Tickle: Was he putting pressure on your throat?
Kate Griffiths: Yes.
Louise Tickle, narrating: The assaults continued while she was pregnant.
Reading from Judge Williscroft’s judgement: He described an occasion just before the child’s birth when he denied pushing his wife, saying she was goading and provoking him and he put his hands on her “in complete frustration”. My finding is he pushed her and she fell onto the bed.
Kate Griffiths: And I remember saying to him, go on, hit me whilst I’m pregnant then. And that stopped him. And this is just a week before I gave birth. It was the first indication to me that there was no regard for our baby. I always thought it would…
[Begins to cry]
Louise Tickle, narrating: There was sexual coercion.
Reading from Judge Williscroft’s judgement: She told the court he would be persistent and pestering, told her “I always get what I want” and put pressure on her to agree to this at the start. She stated he had “trained her” in what he wanted.
Kate Griffiths: After a few months, he started wanting to do things that I wasn’t particularly comfortable with but he was very persistent to the point of just completely wearing you down and so I agreed it made, it just made for an easy life. He told me that I was frigid, I was a prude. You know, everybody does this.
Louise Tickle: What would happen if you resisted? If you didn’t want to do the stuff he wanted?
Kate Griffiths: To start with earlier on in the relationship, he’d just go into a mood. I’d get the silent treatment but later on in a relationship he’d get deeply unpleasant even to the point of I remember him actually kicking me out of bed.
Reading from Judge Williscroft’s judgement: It seems to me that it never crossed Andrew Griffiths mind that she would not do what he liked her to do.
Kate Griffiths: It was all about Andrew and what he wanted. Always.
Reading from Judge Williscroft’s judgement: He described how he had engaged in what he described as “sexually risky behaviour” for many years as he enjoyed it. This included the two women in 2010 and 2011, one of whom he had a long relationship with. He accepted he had threatened this woman he would go to the press if she spoke to his wife
Louise Tickle, narrating: As all of this was happening behind closed doors at home, Andrew Griffiths was appointed a government whip and given the role of minister. And, as a judge has found, using his power and his status to silence the people closest to him.
Reading from Judge Williscroft’s judgement: His constant diminishing of her by describing her as exaggerated and theatrical in court and in his evidence, will have undermined her perception of situations.
Kate Griffiths: I remember saying to him, I’m going to go to the police. And he said to me, nobody’s going to believe you Kate. I’m a member of parliament, the blue eyed boy, everyone thinks I’m fabulous. I have a good relationship with businesses, police. Nobody will believe you. And then I remember him quite clearly saying to me, anyway, you’d be nothing without me. And that sort of stops you. And I thought, why would they believe me, out there, in public, he is, he’s doing, because he was a good MP, he worked hard. He’s right. They won’t believe me.
Louise Tickle: And where does that leave you?
Kate Griffiths: Trapped in a relationship. And that sounds crazy. And I must admit, I’m one of these people that, before I ever got into this relationship, I would read stuff in the papers about women who’d been in this sort of situation, and I would always think why didn’t you leave? But when you’re actually in the situation, it’s very different. You’re in love with this person, even though you’ve seen the really unpleasant side of them and you always want to believe the excuse you’re given and the promise that it won’t happen again. And you don’t want people out there to think that you’ve not got this perfect life.
Louise Tickle: And that sounds really lonely.
Kate Griffiths: Yeah.
Louise Tickle: Could you tell anyone?
Kate Griffiths: No, I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t. I thought, it crossed my mind, I thought, should I tell my parents? I thought I can’t tell my parents. They’ll go to the police. He’ll lose his job. So I never did.
Charlotte Proudman: It was slowly getting to that point where I think she was starting to acknowledge just how harmful and abusive this was. And so we had quite a frank conversation about that, and I know it was incredibly difficult for her.
So I am Dr. Charlotte Proudman. I’m a barrister at Goldsmith chambers specialising in family law, in particular violence against women and girls.I do an awful lot of cases involving rape, domestic abuse and coercive and controlling behavior, largely representing mothers.
Louise Tickle, narrating: As the court case over access to their child progressed, Kate’s solicitors began to understand the gravity of what she had experienced in her marriage.
When they realised she was a victim of abuse, they brought in Charlotte Proudman to represent her. A barrister who unambiguously describes herself as a feminist, and who knows all too well that the kind of coercive and controlling abuse Kate suffered is very hard to prove in a court of law.
Charlotte Proudman: And I think she felt quite embarrassed about speaking about these things, not only with me, but the idea of then having to speak to the court.
Kate Griffiths: I remember talking through the stuff that we’ve discussed, when I’d wake up and he’d started having sex with me. And I remember my barrister stopping me and saying, Kate, do you know what you’ve just described? And I remember saying, well, yes, but we were married. And she said, no, what you’ve just described is rape.
And she said, the question is, do you want to pursue that? And that was a really big decision. But, ultimately, I know it was the right one and I said yes, we need to pursue it.
Charlotte Proudman: She knew that she had to do everything she could to protect her child. And the only way she could do that was to speak openly and honestly, about what had happened to her in the marriage, even if she knew it was going to be extremely difficult to prove these allegations.
What I wanted to make sure, and I certainly hoped for, was that the judge could see her, not only in the powerful position that she’s in now as a member of parliament, but remembering the position that she was in at the time when she was abused, which was a very different position. Economically, she was very vulnerable and in a much lesser paid job, very much financially reliant and controlled by him. And she was experiencing an enormous amount of abuse, which made her obviously feel very vulnerable. So in many respects, I think some of the best evidence that I see being given by clients is when they’re reliving the trauma and watching the cross-examination of her or of any woman in that position. It’s the usual tropes that are played out in all cases of she’s lying, she’s inconsistent here, she’s making it up, she’s exaggerating, she was asking for it, oh, she’s as bad as him.
Louise Tickle, narrating: As the case went to court, over a four-day fact finding hearing in November 2020, Kate took the stand.
Louise Tickle: You had to be cross-examined.
Kate Griffiths: Yes. Yeah.
Louise Tickle: What was that like?
Kate Griffiths: It was awful. It was a day and a half in the witness box and it was draining. You have to talk about the most intimate things in a courtroom with people you don’t know. I remember, I think there was only one instance where I actually cried in the courtroom, the rest of the time I managed to hold it together, but I did cry. And that’s when I was talking about our wedding night and how rough he’d been with me.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Many of the issues the court case dealt with are complicated and delicate. For example, the judge examined what it means to initiate sex with someone who is asleep.
The judge said:
Reading from Judge Williscroft’s judgement: The difficulty of submission rather than consenting to sexual intercourse is a complex one. However, unconscious, the question of consent cannot arise. She describes crying as this happened and his never apologising or recognising what he had done.
Kate Griffiths: Sometimes he’d, I’d actually wake up, and he would have just started having sex with me. I’d have been asleep. And sometimes I would grit my teeth and just think we’re married and other times I’d get upset. Sometimes he’d just carry on, he’d tell me not to be so fucking pathetic. Other times, if I was lucky, he would stop.
But those were the times when he lost his temper and would kick me, actually kicking me out of the bed. He’d just keep on kicking and kicking and kicking until I rolled out to the bed. And I’d just go, lock myself in the bathroom again and I’d just be in bits.
Reading from Judge Williscroft’s judgement: She was, I find, humiliated by this.
Louise Tickle, narrating: From the outside, it looked as if the Griffiths were happy, successful. But that’s exactly why it’s important that we, the public, hear about a case like Griffiths v Griffiths.
Because abuse can and does happen to anyone.
Brian Farmer: It seemed to me this must send out a message to so many women. There are, you come across so many cases in family courts where women are the subject of domestic abuse and rape, but they’re often poor, working class, young women who have no status and probably think no one is on their side. They’re often immigrants who don’t speak English as a first language and they think they’re on their own. But here you’ve got people who are the very opposite of that. They’ve got all the support and all the help and all the education, and yet still it can happen. You know, the fact that it can happen to Kate Griffiths, it must, it must do an awful lot of good for women across the world to think it as there’s nothing to be ashamed of here
Louise Tickle, narrating: Family court judges are often criticised for the way they treat domestic abuse cases. Last year, a challenge in the Court of Appeal gave shocking examples of some judges’ ignorance of what constitutes domestic abuse, and even rape.
Cases, like one where a judge claimed that if a woman said no, but did not physically struggle and fight against the man forcing himself on her, she must be consenting to sex. But the way the judge in this case, Judge Wiliscroft, came to her conclusions was nuanced, methodical, and sophisticated.
Kate Griffiths: It was a four day fact-find. And I remember very clearly on the, I think it was on the first day, she said that she’d obviously been through all the statements and she wasn’t just going to be looking at those few incidents. She preferred to look at the much wider picture, those were her exact words. When it came to coercive control and domestic abuse, she wanted to look at the wider picture.
Louise Tickle, narrating: She triangulated the evidence.
And it’s difficult, evaluating evidence of domestic abuse, especially coercive control. But there was some corroborating evidence, such as contemporaneous texts. There was evidence from Kate Griffith’s family and from two of her friends.
And Judge Williscroft looked at all this, as well as admissions on some of the allegations from Andrew Griffiths himself, who frequently downplayed and tried to minimise his own behaviour.
Reading from Judge Williscroft’s judgement: Andrew Griffths was a lengthy responder to most questions wanting to put an answer in “context”. It reflected a powerful person comfortable in a challenging setting which is relevant to consider the power imbalance in their relationship.
Louise Tickle, narrating: This judge got it, that a powerful man was abusing his power, and then attempting to control the narrative. In court, she watched him do it.
Kate Griffiths: It was very much, remember who I am.
Louise Tickle, narrating: But remember, all of this was a secret. All of this was bound by the privacy of the family court. Everything you have heard so far. It was just Brian and I, reading about it on our own.
Andrew Griffiths could have run again for office, and no one would have known anything about what had emerged in court. And so, last January, Brian and I agreed to work together. We were going to launch a public interest argument. To say: on this occasion, and given the people involved, this judgement should be published.
And so we went to court. Twice. We argued that publishing would show victims of domestic abuse that the family justice system can protect them. That some judges do understand coercive and controlling behaviour.
We argued: this man had held the highest elected office. The public interest in knowing who Andrew Griffiths really was, we said, was overwhelming.
We argued: that it would be an outrage if he could use the family court to keep the judgement secret, and protect himself, and effectively banning his wife from ever being able to say a judge had believed her.
Brian Farmer: The great problem with covering family courts is working out what the case is about and which case to attend. The rules say journalists can attend family courts but all the cases are listed by numbers. So how do you know which case you want to attend? I mean, I would liken it to football matches being listed by the tax codes of their clubs
Louise Tickle, narrating: Over the years, Brian has developed a way of decoding this listing system. But even once we had found the case, and got hold of the judgement, we faced some really significant hurdles.
Brian Farmer: It was obvious that when you looked down the road, that it wasn’t a – we’re not in a flat sprint here. There’s obviously two great big hurdles before we can get to the end of the line. You’re going to identify a victim of sex abuse. The law says you can’t identify victims of sex abuse unless the victim agrees. So that’s the first hurdle.
Louise Tickle, narrating: We needed Kate Griffiths onboard.
Louise Tickle: A few weeks after Judge Williscroft’s judgment came through, you found out that two journalists, so myself and Brian Farmer from PA Media, wanted to read the judgment and then I think your solicitor told you that we wanted to publish it very large amounts of it, in fact, most of it. How did that feel to you?
Kate Griffiths: I was devastated. I really was. Nobody wants intimate details of their life like that, nobody wants to be seen as a victim in public and a victim of rape. But then, I read through your application and I realised what you wanted, that you were looking for transparency in the family courts and ultimately to lift that veil of secrecy, so that people can see what’s going on and hopefully bring change for others that are going through that process. And when I realised that it all just dropped into place I knew I had to support it.
Louise Tickle, narrating: So that was the first hurdle.
Brain Farmer: The second hurdle is that even if you don’t name a child, you’re going to identify a child.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Andrew Griffiths argued that publication would harm their child and would have a catastrophic impact on his relationship with them. We argued that he had already jeopardised that relationship.
Brain Farmer: You Google Andrew Griffiths name and that’s what it comes up with, sexting. So it seems to me that it’s like storm clouds in a clear sky. The child is too young now to appreciate reports about sexting and what Andrew Griffiths did. But at some point the child will discover about Andrew Griffiths, sexting. So the child is going to suffer teasing at school at some point, it seems to me inevitable. So the question is, if the child then has to discover that the father has raped the mother, that’s another storm cloud. How much additional harm can be done by the second storm cloud? That’s really how it seemed to me and that was how we tried to argue it.
Kate Griffiths: They were always going to find out whether I had supported publication or not. At some point, it’s an awful fact that I’m going to have to sit down and have this conversation. And I’m confident that I can support my child through this, but ultimately it’s not the publication that will have brought it to their attention. It’s his actions.
Louise Tickle, narrating: There was a third hurdle. A financial one. Trying to mount a legal argument is expensive, and takes up a lot of time.
I needed some back up. I called my editor, Basia, here at Tortoise. Together, we worked on the case, and Tortoise funded the investigation and the services of a solicitor and a barrister – costing thousands and thousands of pounds.
And in July 2021, we went to the Royal Courts of Justice to make our case. Our barrister made a compelling, legally detailed argument for why we should be allowed to report.
And then Brian stood up and just made it all so simple.
Brian Famer: The public must, in principle, have a right to know that a man who was an MP and minister has been found by a British judge in a British courtroom, to have raped someone. If a woman makes a complaint of rape to the police, and a man is charged, he’s named.
We can be told that the prime minister is under investigation for who’s buying his wallpaper and that an MP can pocket over £100,000 for a second job which is basically lobbying for his paymasters. Yet the public can’t be told that an MP has raped his wife because of the secrecy of the family court.
If we can’t identify Andrew Griffiths, the legal system has protected him, and not his victim, and the abuser wins. And surely nobody who legislated for family court hearings to be held in private could have intended that.
Louise Tickle: I remember you telling me in the, you know, seven or eight months that we’ve known each other, that constituents have been coming to you with this kind of story, but you’ve been very constrained, haven’t you?
Kate Griffiths: Yes. I’ve been silenced, in effect, by the courts, I haven’t been able to say anything
Louise Tickle, narrating: Hearing our case, a new judge, Mrs Justice Lieven in the High Court, granted us the right to publish. That was in July.
But then, Andrew Griffiths appealed. It meant another hearing, more costs, more time. He wasn’t giving up.
Financially, the whole thing has cost Kate Griffiths everything.
Louise Tickle: If you hadn’t been an MP, could you have done this court case?
Kate Griffiths: No, no. I would have to have just given up and handed my child over.
Louise Tickle, narrating: By contrast Andrew Griffiths has been represented for free.
Kate Griffiths: So he knows he can keep on dragging me back to court and it’s not costing him a penny
Louise Tickle, narrating: And then, just before Christmas, the Court of Appeal judgment came through.
BBC Derby News Bulletin: BBC radio Derby update with the latest BBC news. I’m Wesley Mullen, former conservative minister and MP for Burton Andrew Griffiths has been found to have raped and physically abused his wife. A family court concluded the 51 year old pressurised Kate Griffiths, the current MP for Burton, into engaging in sexual activity, using coercive and controlling behavior.
Judge Williscroft made the findings on the balance of probabilities in November, 2020, but there’s been a legal battle over whether the information could be public.
Louise Tickle, narrating: We won. Twice.
In the end it took twelve months. Two journalists. One Tortoise. Six barristers. Five judges. And many, many tens of thousands of pounds.
Louise Tickle: After everything that’s happened and everything is out there now, how do you feel?
Kate Griffiths: It’s like a feeling of freedom. I’m no longer silenced by the courts. I can speak out. It’s thrown a light on his lies and how he was trying to spin it. But ultimately it gives me an even stronger platform now to be able to bring my personal experience to what I want to do to help, to help other victims.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Having committed to her voters to campaign on behalf of domestic abuse victims, four days after we were allowed to publish her story, Kate Griffiths stood up in the House of Commons and asked this:
Kate Griffiths speaking at the House of Commons: Thank you Mr. Speaker. Does my right honorable friends think it’s right that victims of rape and domestic abuse should have to pay child contact costs to maintain their abusers contact with their child?
Louise Tickle: You’d been ordered to pay 50% of the costs of making sure that contact with your provenly abusive ex-husband was safe for your child?
Kate Griffiths: Yes. Even in light of the serious findings made against him in the fact find I was still being ordered to pay 50% of the costs and to still facilitate contact. It’s not right. It’s almost like, it feels like a continuation of the control, the coercive control and the abuse.
Louise Tickle, narrating: Should it have been this hard – taken this long, and this much money for the truth to be told?
Brian Farmer: It’s interesting you say that, I know two other cases, in one case a barrister was the victim. I know of another case where there are allegations against someone who’s a part-time judge, but the difficulty is that these cases are listed by number in scores of courts where no one ever goes, you can’t see the names. That’s the problem with this case. If a government minister can be in a case, hiding behind a number on a wet Wednesday in Derby family court, how many other people are hiding behind those cases? I frankly think it’s a scandal and the question I would ask and I suspect the public would ask is who else is hiding in these family court? The prime minister might be there and you wouldn’t know.
Louise Tickle, narrating: If it took so much for us to bring you this story, imagine what else might be buried in our family courts?
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Slow Newscast. It was written and reported by Louise Tickle. The producer was Gemma Newby. The editor was Basia Cummings, with sound design by Karla Patella.
This story says everything about what we in the Tortoise newsroom are for. A journalism that is an agent of change. And so to support Tortoise, and the kind of journalism we do you can become a member of our newsroom. By joining us, you’ll have a seat at the table, by joining our Thinkins – where we discuss and refine story ideas –, and by all the other things we do; our daily news emails, our live events, and our data journalism. To join, just go to tortoisemedia.com/friend and use the code BASIA50.
If you have been affected by what you have heard in this podcast, you can contact the charity Rights of Women, which provides women with free, confidential legal advice by specialist women solicitors and barristers.
Thank you and see you next week.