‘You have to do something about this guy’: How a night at the Carlton Club ended with Tory MP Chris Pincher being ‘frogmarched to the door’ after getting so drunk he ‘could barely speak’ and being accused of groping two men, writes GUY ADAMS
There was no champagne flowing, so Chris Pincher had to make do with a large flute of chilled prosecco when he arrived at the Carlton Club in London at around eight o’clock on Wednesday evening. The event, a 30th anniversary reception for the Conservative Friends of Cyprus, felt a touch pale, male, and stale.
But in return for listening to a speech by Tory MP Theresa Villiers, guests were promised as many free refills of red and white wine as they could stomach. All of which placed Pincher, a famously thirsty 52-year-old bachelor, in his natural element.
The (now former) Tory whip is not only a keen boozer but also a noted clubman, who recently used his drinks column in the Critic magazine to sing the praises of the ‘long and luscious’ wine list at his Pall Mall gentleman’s club, The Travellers.
At the Carlton, a Tory establishment on St James’s Street, near the Ritz, the 100-odd guests at Wednesday’s bash were shoe-horned into the grand Churchill Room on the ground floor, where they chatted beneath a vast portrait of Sir Winston wearing white tie and puffing away on a large cigar.
Be-suited waiters glided across the deep-pile green carpet bearing trays of canapes: smoked duck with oriental vegetable and hoisin sauce, a goats cheese mousse with beetroot and almond crust, pulled pork on sourdough, mini fish cakes and heirloom tomato tarts. Stewards were on hand to top up empty glasses and ensure that tipsy punters didn’t splash anything on the venue’s custard yellow walls. Like other MPs who’d turned out, Pincher was asked to say a few words.
There was no champagne flowing, so Chris Pincher had to make do with a large flute of chilled prosecco when he arrived at the Carlton Club in London at around eight o’clock on Wednesday evening
Then, around 9pm (when the reception wrapped up) he adjourned to the club’s downstairs bar, where a crowd of MPs, peers, lobbyists, club officials and assorted hangers-on were settling into deep leather armchairs.
As with many incidents that unfold after alcohol has been taken, the finer details of what happened next remain unclear. But we do know that at some point a couple of hours later, the visibly inebriated Pincher was accused of groping two men. ‘Quite a few people had decided to stay on for a drink, and at around half past ten I saw him, soporific from alcohol, staggering around the bar,’ a senior Tory parliamentarian who was present tells me.
‘He was lurching towards men and drunkenly propositioning them. He was up to all sorts, and so drunk that it looked like he was about to fall down and break something, or someone. It was embarrassing to watch, actually, and completely out of order.’
Another witness told reporters yesterday that the middle-aged former IT consultant was ‘clearly trying to seduce several young men,’ while a fellow MP said he’d been asked to leave the club by several people and was so drunk that ‘he could barely stand up’.
His alleged victims are believed to be parliamentary staffers. One of them immediately reported what had happened to the Tory whip Sarah Dines, who was also in the Carlton Club.
The event, a 30th anniversary reception for the Conservative Friends of Cyprus, felt a touch pale, male, and stale Pictured: London’s Carlton Club
A source says he approached her looking visibly flustered, saying: ‘you have got to do something about this guy!’ It seems that Pincher was then escorted from the Club. ‘Two backbench MPs had to hold him up to stop him collapsing,’ says the senior parliamentarian.
‘He was frogmarched to the door and poured into a black cab. The guy was so drunk that he could barely speak and was unable to tell the driver where he lived. We had to look it up for him. That was how bad it was.’
The following morning, Dines is believed to have reported Pincher to the party’s chief whip, Chris Heaton-Harris, who in turn conducted an investigation. By Thursday evening, the MP for Tamworth had fallen on his sword, admitting in his letter he was resigning as a whip: ‘Last night I drank far too much. I’ve embarrassed myself and other people.’
By tea-time yesterday, with further details of the allegations emerging, the Conservative Party decided finally to suspend him pending the outcome of an investigation.
Whether that will be the end of the matter is, for the time being, anyone’s guess. The likelihood is that his future will now hinge on whether any of the young men who have allegedly been on the receiving end of Pincher’s advances decide to bring complaints to the police.
What no-one can deny, however, is that few in Westminster are surprised by the recent turn of events. For this latest sleaze crisis to envelop Boris Johnson’s Tory Party was a scandal foretold.
But in return for listening to a speech by Tory MP Theresa Villiers, guests were promised as many free refills of red and white wine as they could stomach
Pincher, who was elected MP for Tamworth in 2010, has reportedly been the subject of ugly rumours before.
In November that year, he was forced to resign from the Whips’ Office for the first time after the Mail on Sunday carried a shocking article by Alex Story, a former Olympic rower turned Conservative activist.
Story claimed to have been 26 when Pincher – who was in a group of Tory staffers drinking in a Westminster pub – allegedly persuaded him to adjourn to a restaurant for dinner. But after they got in a cab, he claims he was instead taken to Pincher’s home and poured a large whisky, which made him feel ‘woozy’. Pincher became ‘unusually tactile’, Story claimed. ‘He then started untucking the back of my shirt, massaging my neck and whispered: “You’ll go far in the Conservative Party.”’ Story added: ‘He rushed into another room saying: “Let me just slip into something more comfortable,” and returned in a bathrobe like a pound-shop Harvey Weinstein with his chest and belly sticking out… It was like a sordid Carry On movie scene.’
In an apparent effort to kill the story, Pincher hired Dominic Crossley, a libel lawyer at Payne Hicks Beach who had achieved fame helping the late Formula One founder Max Mosley sue the News of the World for publishing images of him at a masochistic sex party. Pincher insisted that ‘I do not recognise either the events or the interpretation placed on them’ and continues to deny Story’s claims.
Within two months, an internal party inquiry concluded that ‘there has not been a breach of the code of conduct’ and Pincher was allowed to return to the Whips’ Office.
At the Carlton, a Tory establishment on St James’s Street, near the Ritz, the 100-odd guests at Wednesday’s bash were shoe-horned into the grand Churchill Room on the ground floor
In a separate incident, he was accused of ‘touching up’ the former Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop, who told him to ‘f*** off,’ and he soon earned the nickname ‘a*** pincher’ because of the allegations that he propositioned young men in the bars and on the terraces of Parliament.
‘He gets hammered and does all sorts,’ is how one Tory peer puts it. ‘Anyone else would have been kicked out years ago. We got rid of that chap from Tiverton who watched porn, which is far less serious. But because Boris thinks he’s loyal he’s been hopelessly indulged, which is why this has now happened.’
Says a backbench MP: ‘What we’ve got here is someone who… becomes inebriated instead of just finding a boyfriend like the rest of us would have done. He’s been told not to get p****d and behave like that before.’
So bad was his reputation that the website Politico has claimed Pincher was at one point given a ‘minder’ to ‘ensure he leaves events without getting too drunk and getting into trouble’.
Meanwhile in February, when Boris Johnson attempted to promote him to Chief Whip during a reshuffle in return for his support when backbenchers were demanding a leadership challenge, Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay attempted to intervene.
‘Officials were made to interview him at length about various allegations,’ says one source who explains that Barclay knew of Pincher’s history. ‘It led to the reshuffle being delayed for several hours, which sparked all sorts of conspiracy theories. In fact it was to work out whether he ought to get the job of chief whip. Obviously he didn’t in the end, but Boris wasn’t prepared to let him go and that’s why we’re now in this mess.’
Given the number of ignored warning signs, Pincher’s inevitable demise has sparked renewed complaints about the PM’s leadership.
One critic, a disgruntled Tory MP, told reporters yesterday: ‘This means people are asking about Boris’s judgment of character again. He [Pincher] got the job because he was co-ordinator of Operation Big Dog [designed to bolster Boris’s position as leader]. That’s it.’
An un-named minister meanwhile was quoted saying: ‘This feeds straight into the leadership questions. What does it say about Boris’s judgment? He had no shortage of people telling him [not to appoint Pincher] but he gave him the job because Pincher helped save his leadership. The other problem is that the pressure for a by-election in Pincher’s seat will start in the next ten minutes. We’ll lose.’
In Downing Street, heads appear to remain firmly stuck in the sand. The Prime Minister’s spokesman Guto Harri reportedly told staff at yesterday’s Downing Street morning meeting that Pincher now needed to be protected on the grounds that he was emotionally vulnerable and had lost his career, meaning critics should be asked to ‘think about how he feels’.
As they prepare for yet another grisly weekend fending off an entirely avoidable scandal, staff in No 10 may feel Mr Pincher has done quite enough feeling for one week.
‘Groping’ Tory was too drunk to speak
By Jason Groves and Claire Ellicott
Downing Street was last night braced for fresh allegations about the behaviour of Boris Johnson’s former deputy chief whip.
In a dramatic change of heart, the Prime Minister yesterday suspended the whip from Chris Pincher as new details emerged of his drunken night of shame at London’s Carlton Club on Wednesday.
An eyewitness said Mr Pincher, 52, was seen ‘staggering around the bar… lurching towards young men and propositioning them’.
Mr Pincher was ‘frog-marched’ out of the club by two Tory MPs and put in a taxi.
One observer said: ‘The guy was so drunk, he could barely speak and was unable to tell the driver where he lived. We had to look it up for him. That was how bad it was. It was embarrassing to watch and completely out of order.’
Mr Pincher quit the Government on Thursday over allegations he groped two men at the club. At the time, Tory sources said Mr Johnson did not believe further action was needed as Mr Pincher had ‘done the decent thing’.
Downing Street was last night braced for fresh allegations about the behaviour of Boris Johnson’s former deputy chief whip
But a Downing Street source said the PM had been left shocked yesterday following a conversation with an MP who had been with one of Mr Pincher’s alleged victims. ‘The account given was sufficiently disturbing to make the PM feel more troubled by all this,’ the source said.
No 10 is braced for more allegations to surface against Mr Pincher, who has been the subject of lurid rumours at Westminster for months.
One senior Tory parliamentarian said: ‘This has been brewing for a long time, but it’s very unfortunate. His nickname, of course, was “pinch your bum Pincher”.’
Another said: ‘He’s been doing this for years. He gets hammered and does all sorts. Anyone else would have been kicked out years ago.’ The allegations came as:
- Mr Pincher faced a Commons sleaze probe following a formal complaint to the Parliamentary watchdog set up in the wake of the Pestminster scandal;
- Two former Cabinet ministers warned the PM he faced ‘serious reputational damage’ unless he adopted a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to claims of sexual misconduct;
- Mr Johnson signalled a shake-up of the male-dominated whips office by appointing former housing minister Kelly Tolhurst to replace Mr Pincher;
- Whitehall sources confirmed Mr Pincher is in line for a £7,920 payoff from the taxpayer;
- Reports claimed that Mr Pincher’s behaviour had caused so much alarm that he was appointed an informal ‘minder’ on nights out;
- Tory high command was preparing for a possible by-election in Mr Pincher’s Tamworth constituency where he holds a majority of almost 20,000.
The Prime Minister spent hours resisting mounting pressure to act decisively against Mr Pincher yesterday.
In a dramatic change of heart, the Prime Minister yesterday suspended the whip from Chris Pincher as new details emerged of his drunken night of shame at London’s Carlton Club on Wednesday
No 10 had initially suggested the PM considered the matter closed, with a Tory source telling the Daily Mail on Thursday that he believed there was ‘no need for an investigation and no need to suspend the whip’ because Mr Pincher had ‘done the decent thing’ by resigning.
But the stance provoked fury among Tory MPs who warned it sent a message that sexual assault would be tolerated.
In a joint letter to the PM, former Cabinet ministers Caroline Nokes and Karen Bradley called for a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to allegations of sexual misconduct. ‘The party and, by extension, the Government are at risk of serious reputational damage by the current approach,’ they wrote.
At 5pm, No 10 finally bowed to the pressure and announced that the whip would be suspended while Parliament’s independent complaints and grievance service investigates a claim against him.
An eyewitness said Mr Pincher, 52, was seen ‘staggering around the bar… lurching towards young men and propositioning them’
Tories fear a third poll
The Conservatives will be nervously contemplating the prospect of another bruising by-election after Chris Pincher had the whip suspended last night.
Just two weeks after losing two seats to Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the party will be despairing at the thought of a third contest.
The Tories have a 19,600 majority over Labour in Mr Pincher’s seat of Tamworth, but less of a swing would be needed for it to change hands than the Lib Dems achieved in Tiverton and Honiton.
To trigger a by-election, Mr Pincher would not only have to lose the whip but also stand down as an MP – or be pushed out under the recall procedure. But if further allegations emerge, things could move quickly.
One Cabinet minister said the episode raised fresh questions about the judgment of those advising Mr Johnson.
‘It feels like the only place in the country that couldn’t see this as the inevitable conclusion was Downing Street,’ the minister said.
The Tory whips office was also facing questions last night after a friend of one of Mr Pincher’s alleged victims said the man was initially asked whether he was gay and warned that a complaint might not be ‘straightforward’ if he was. A Tory source denied the claim.
No 10 earlier stretched credulity by claiming Mr Johnson had not been aware of allegations about Mr Pincher’s conduct when he was brought back to the whips office in the Government reshuffle in February.
In 2017, Mr Pincher resigned from the whips office after The Mail on Sunday revealed he was accused of making an unwanted sexual pass towards former Olympic rower and Conservative activist Alex Story.
In a separate alleged incident, Mr Pincher was accused of ‘touching up’ former Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop, who told him to ‘f*** off’.
Mr Pincher made no public comment yesterday, but in his resignation letter to the PM on Wednesday night, he said: ‘Last night I drank far too much.
‘I’ve embarrassed myself and other people which is the last thing I want to do and for that I apologise to you and to those concerned.
‘I think the right thing to do in the circumstances is for me to resign as deputy chief whip. I owe it to you and the people I’ve caused upset to, to do this.’
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