It was right to expose Andrew Griffiths as an abuser; powerful men must be accountable | Charlotte Proudman

I’m known as the feminist barrister. I represent women with no immigration status on the breadline and I represent politicians in positions of power. They all have one thing in common. They are survivors of male violence. Kate Griffiths MP is no exception.

I had the great privilege of being her barrister. I remember meeting her in the Houses of Parliament for the first time. She had such stature. She was poised and had an air of confidence.

We walked into a small room and it was there that I learned what her ex-husband Andrew Griffiths, a disgraced former MP, had done to his wife behind closed doors.

When he was a minister under Theresa May MP, he was also raping his wife whilst she was asleep. Sex whilst asleep is rape. But the abuse didn’t stop there. He put his hands around her neck, hit her and was physically abusive to her when she was nine months pregnant. He even shouted “shut the fuck up” to their new born baby. He continued his insidious coercive control of her even after they separated.

We already knew he had a reputation for sexual depravity towards women. In 2013, Andrew Griffiths was reported to the police for harassment by his former partner whom he cheated on. In 2018, just weeks after Kate had just given birth, he sent over 2,000 sexual and violent messages in just a matter of days to two female constituents.

His darker texts included “She’s so cute. So sweet. I can’t wait to beat her”. Whilst he supported making upskirting a criminal offence in parliament, he was sexting women, “I want to be able to lift your skirts over dinner and show my friends”.

The Tory government suspended him – only to bring him back for Theresa May MP’s “confidence vote”. Then he was cleared of any wrongdoing by the parliamentary standards watchdog. The big red neon warning signs were ablaze for everyone to see. But those in the most senior positions of power turned a blind eye.

In 2019, Kate bravely stood against Andrew Griffiths in the election as an MP in Burton upon Trent and she won. Little did anyone know that Derby family court was making decisions about one of the biggest cases of our time. Kate wanted to protect her child from further harm at the hands of Andrew. She could only do this by proving that he abused her and the child. She went through a traumatising trial.

Watching her being cross-examined was painful . “You’re lying”, “why didn’t you leave?”, “why didn’t you tell anyone?”, was the line of questioning. Because, Kate responded, he told me that no one would believe me because he’s an MP. He used his position of power as a minister and MP to rape and abuse his wife with absolute impunity. He tried to silence her.

Thousands of victims of domestic abuse will know from first-hand experience that almost everything that happens in the family courts is secret. I have long campaigned that we need to expose the truth. We need transparency.

In this case, two journalists, Louise Tickle and Brian Farmer, applied to publish the judgments. Unlike all the other women that I represent, Kate had a platform to expose the truth. But Andrew, who denied allegations made by Kate and “adamantly denied” rape, fought bitterly against publishing the judgments. He was trying to further control her. But it didn’t work. Mrs Justice Lieven said, “the court should be slow in all cases to be used as a means by which one parent seeks further control over the other. Particularly where there have already been findings of coercive control”. We were vindicated.

This case is not over. Andrew Griffiths is still allowed to have
supervised contact with their child. And if that isn’t awful enough, she has to pay half of the costs of supervised contact. This is financial control – both sickening and perverse. I appealed against the decision on behalf of Kate. We are waiting for the judgment.

Imagine, you are teenager and you discover that your father raped your mother and then the family court required your mother to make you available for contact with him. Surely that is state-sanctioned abuse.

The Ministry of Justice found last year that the family courts take a “pro-contact” at all costs approach even in cases of domestic abuse. This case shows that the government needs to urgently change the law. We need a presumption of no contact for abusive parents.

But what this case shows most powerfully is how men in positions of power can still use their status to silence and control victims. Haven’t we learnt anything from the MeToo movement? It shows that even an MP, a public figure, a lawmaker, can be coercively controlling of their spouse and of other women. We have seen so many of these cases. It can happen to anyone.

Powerful men who abuse need to be held accountable because victims will only have faith in the family justice system if they see that perpetrators are being held accountable and children are being protected.

Victims in the family courts must not be silenced, for they have a right to self-identification and self-determination. If we want to change the system together, we must be able to speak the unspeakable.

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