Chris Pincher was “incredibly drunk” on the night he is alleged to have groped two men, MPs present at the Carlton Club that evening have told Sky News.
“He was beyond the limit when he should have been socialising,” one MP claimed.
“He was slurring and mumbling some nonsense and came back in saying he needed the loo after he was asked to leave.”
And asked if he had seen Mr Pincher, who has been MP for Tamworth in Staffordshire since 2010, drunk before, the MP said: “Not that bad. He was incredibly drunk.”
In his first public statement since his suspension from the Tory whip, Mr Pincher, the former deputy chief whip, admitted he “drank far too much on Wednesday night” and is now seeking medical support.
And another MP present at the Carlton Club, where Tory MPs and supporters had been attending a Conservative Friends Of Cyprus reception, told Sky News it was around 1am when Mr Pincher eventually left the club, after the bar had closed.
The latest revelations about the events in the elite club on Wednesday coincide with increasing pressure on Boris Johnson over his decision to appoint Mr Pincher to such a sensitive government post in his reshuffle in February this year.
The Sunday Telegraph reports that the PM “turned a blind eye” to sex pest warnings about Mr Pincher.
The Sunday Mirror says he was warned twice, and The Independent claims a Conservative MP alleges he was groped twice by Mr Pincher.
‘He’s handsy. That’s a problem’
The Mail on Sunday, reporting a claim first made by the PM’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, says Mr Johnson was aware of concerns about Mr Pincher’s behaviour two years ago and told aides: “He’s handsy. That’s a problem. Pincher by name, pincher by nature.”
Downing Street did not deny that there had been concerns about Mr Pincher before his appointment, but insisted Mr Johnson “was not aware of any specific allegations”.
One of the MPs present at the Carlton Club on Wednesday, asked if he was aware of Mr Pincher’s reputation, told Sky News: “There have been rumours for a while, but there’s a difference between rumours and hard facts.”
Conservative MPs who were present praised the actions of two members of the 2019 intake, Sarah Dines and Mark Fletcher, in helping to calm things down after a man complained to Ms Dines about being groped twice by Mr Pincher.
It is understood that Ms Dines, a family law barrister who is MP for Derbyshire Dales, witnessed the incident involving one of the two men and later reported it to the government chief whip, Chris Heaton-Harris.
‘She handled herself extremely well’
Describing the actions of Ms Dines in the Carlton Club, an MP who was present told Sky News: “She was trying to get Pincher to leave. She went out of her way to make the situation better. She handled herself extremely well.”
When Mr Pincher did not leave, Mr Fletcher – MP for Bolsover – offered to help and took the 52-year-old former Tamworth MP outside into St James’s Street in Piccadilly, but he came back in to use the lavatory before eventually leaving at around 1am, escorted by Mr Fletcher.
Pincher and Johnson powerless over by-election threat
Chris Pincher’s statement breaking his silence on allegations of drunken groping was both contrite and defiant.
It was contrite because he pledged cooperation with the inquiry now being undertaken by the Commons sleaze watchdog, the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme.
But it was defiant because he served notice that he has no intention of quitting as an MP and hopes to return to his constituency duties “as soon as possible”, he declared.
That, however, is almost certainly out of his hands. The investigation may take some time, depending on the number of complainants and witnesses.
And if the outcome is a suspension from the Commons, there is likely to be a recall petition in Tamworth which could trigger a by-election which he and Boris Johnson – after his bungled attempt to save Owen Paterson – would be powerless to prevent.
Government sources have strongly defended Ms Dines after she was criticised in The Sunday Times by one of the men accusing Mr Pincher of groping. The man said he was “taken aback” when she asked him if he was gay.
Sky News understands that Mr Heaton-Harris has confidence in her and believes she acted promptly and correctly when witnessing inappropriate behaviour and ensured the matter was reported.
‘We take all allegations of this nature extremely seriously’
Describing the incident, government sources said she was approached on Wednesday by an individual who made a complaint to her about inappropriate behaviour.
Responding to the claim that she asked if the man was gay, sources said she asked a series of questions to get a better understanding of what had happened and to establish if the individual knew Mr Pincher and if there was any prior relationship.
And it is claimed by government sources that the very fact that Ms Dines was approached about this matter and followed up on it with the chief whip shows how seriously she took it.
Responding to the latest criticism of the prime minister, a government spokesperson told Sky News: “We take all allegations of this nature extremely seriously and would encourage anyone with any allegations to come forward to the relevant authorities.”