The career of a Conservative MP who assaulted his girlfriend is in doubt, as officials in his local party admitted for the first time that they are considering whether he should face sanctions over the incident.
Members of David Ruffley's local Conservative association told BuzzFeed that the 52-year-old MP's political career is under threat if he cannot explain why he was cautioned by police for domestic assault following an incident involving Wendy Drew, his then partner.
The local party had previously stood firmly behind the MP but this support appears to be wavering ahead of an emergency meeting on Thursday night.
Betty Milburn, vice president of Bury St Edmunds Conservative Association, said she was aware of calls from local activists who want Ruffley to step down following the incident of domestic assault.
"We've been listening to comments from members of the association but we don't want to come to any conclusions until we've heard his side of the story," she said.
Asked whether the association would be willing to take further action against Ruffley, she indicated that the MP's position was far from secure: "We want to make sure we've got all the facts before we move and make a decision."
Milburn declined to say whether the association would consider evidence from Ruffley's former partner, or simply rely on the MP's account of events.
Meanwhile Robert Everitt, vice chairman of the local Conservative party, said the association had yet to decide whether to back the MP.
"The executive want to be in a position to ask David Ruffley questions that we feel are relevant around that situation and at that point make a decision," he said.
Questioned whether the local association would then consider taking further action against the MP, Everitt replied: "Yes."
Local Conservative party member Bernard Sargent this afternoon defended Ruffley on Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show, saying he did not have an issue with an MP who "beats up his girlfriend".
On Saturday a leaked letter from Andrew Speed, the local Conservative chairman, attacked "minority feminist groups" for pushing the story.
Speed also said he did not believe Ruffley's caution for domestic assault "qualifies in any way as domestic abuse".
But female Conservative activists in Westminster are understood to be collecting signatures for a letter calling on Ruffley to stand down, saying his position within the party has become untenable. Chief whip Michael Gove is currently investigating the incident and leading domestic violence charities have called on Ruffley to stand down.
Meanwhile an online petition calling on the Conservative party to deselect Ruffley and "show that domestic violence is never acceptable" is gaining around 2,000 signatures an hour.
Ruffley has previously taken a stand against domestic violence, saying "one incident of domestic violence is one too many". His only comment on the incident has been a statement of regret about "inappropriate action on my part" and an insistence he would "never condone domestic violence under any circumstances".
Wendy Drew, Ruffley's former partner, said she had no comment to make and referred enquiries to her lawyer.
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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