An inquiry into allegations of impropriety by Theresa May’s de facto deputy Damian Green is expected to conclude within days after a series of interviews.
The political future of the first secretary of state and Cabinet Office minister remains in the balance as the department’s head of propriety and ethics, Sue Gray, deliberates over claims that Green harassed a young Conservative activist and downloaded pornography to a work computer. He denies both allegations.
The inquiry has continued amid fevered speculation over its scope and Green’s possible successors.
A Whitehall source denied claims in Wednesday’s Daily Mail that Gray was examining Green’s computer records going back five years, insisting that he had not been asked to provide any laptops or computers and has received no such notification.
Reports have claimed that May has drawn up plans for an emergency reshuffle in case her deputy is forced to resign. The Sunday Times claimed that the prime minister would like to persuade William Hague to return as her right-hand man.
The Times speculated that Michael Gove, the environment secretary, and Amber Rudd, the home secretary, were among the possible candidates for the job (£).
The environment secretary is close to Gavin Barwell, May’s chief of staff, who was his parliamentary aide when he was education secretary.
Gray’s inquiry was launched on 1 November after Kate Maltby, a Conservative activist and journalist, wrote an article claiming Green had touched her knee in 2015 and, one year later, sent her a suggestive message. Green said the claims were “untrue and deeply hurtful”.
It later emerged that pornography – allegedly of an “extreme” nature – had been found on Green’s parliamentary office computer after a police raid in 2008.
Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan police commissioner between 2009 and 2011, confirmed he was briefed about the pornography but regarded it as a “side issue”. He said he regretted that its existence was in the public domain.
Green, the first secretary of state, said his accusers had “ulterior motives”.
“I reiterate that no allegations about the presence of improper material on my parliamentary computers have ever been put to me or to the parliamentary authorities by the police,” he said.
“I can only assume that they are being made now, nine years later, for ulterior motives.”
Gray, regarded as the most powerful person in Whitehall after the cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, has questioned Green and members of his staff about both allegations, sources confirmed.
Another Whitehall source suggested the inquiry had “run its course” and would announce its findings “sooner rather than later”.
Gray, 60, also oversaw the 2012 so-called Plebgate inquiry into allegations that the then chief whip, Andrew Mitchell, made insulting remarks to Downing Street police officers. Mitchell denied using the word “plebs” but resigned from government after he admitted failing to treat the officers with respect.
Gray took an unusual career break in the 1980s, running The Cove public house near Newry with her husband, Bill Conlon, a country singer. The pub, popular with both Protestants and Catholics, was less than 10 miles from the Irish border and has since closed down.
This article was written by Rajeev Syal, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 22nd November 2017 12.30 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010