Former Conservative minister Crispin Blunt on Tuesday retracted his remarks questioning the conviction of Imran Ahmad Khan who was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008.
Khan, who served as a Tory MP for Wakefield in West Yorkshire, was convicted on Monday by a jury at Southwark Crown Court following a week-long trial. Khan has since been expelled from the Conservative party.
In a statement published on Monday evening, Blunt, who served as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on global LGBT+ rights, argued that Khan had been a victim of a “dreadful miscarriage of justice”.
The trial was “nothing short of an international scandal”, he added, “with dreadful wider implications for millions of LGBT+ Muslims around the world”.
His remarks sparked a backlash from across the political spectrum. Anneliese Dodds, shadow women and equalities minister, described his comments as “disgraceful”, while a handful of MPs, including Labour’s Chris Bryant and the Scottish National party’s Stewart McDonald and Joanna Cherry announced their intention to step down from the APPG chaired by Blunt.
Blunt on Tuesday deleted his remarks on Twitter and on his website and offered an apology. “On reflection I have decided to retract my statement defending Imran Ahmad Khan,” the MP for Reigate explained. “I am sorry that my defence of him has been a cause of significant upset and concern not least to victims of sexual offences.”
The MP also announced his intention to resign from his chairmanship of the APPG.
The backlash follows a flurry of negative headlines for the Conservative party ahead of local elections in May, amid rising energy bills, tax rises and cost of living concerns.
Voter intention polling from the start of April by YouGov placed the Labour party on a narrow lead of 37 per cent, compared with 33 per cent for the Conservatives.
Earlier this week, Tory MPs voiced concern that the controversy surrounding the chancellor Rishi Sunak’s handling of the furore around his wife’s tax status would negatively impact the party on polling day. Labour have argued the scandal shows the party is out of touch with public sentiment.
Blunt’s retraction came after pressure from within his party to withdraw his remarks. “Crispin’s views are wholly unacceptable,” one Tory official said.
James Heappey, armed forces minister, also sought to outline the government’s intention to respect the court’s verdict. “All I know is that in a court of law yesterday Mr Khan was found guilty and I think every one of us who believes in the judicial system and the rule of law has to respect that judgment,” he told Sky News. “What matters is that absolutely nobody in her majesty’s government is seeking to be critical of the decision of the court.”
Labour have urged Khan, who in 2019 became the first Conservative MP since 1931 to win the seat of Wakefield, to resign immediately to allow a by-election to take place.
At Khan’s hearing, the court heard that in 2008, he had tried to force a 15-year-old to drink alcohol before assaulting him. Khan, 48, has been convicted under section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The former Tory MP will be sentenced at a later date.
In a statement, Khan’s legal team said that he would appeal against the verdict as soon as possible.