A Conservative MP who recently accepted a police caution for assault presided over a culture of fear in his office, some ex-staff members allege.
Former workers in the office of David Ruffley claim the MP was prone to fits of anger in which he threw items across the room, reduced staff members to tears and sometimes behaved in a physically aggressive manner.
Parliament is known for being a high-stress workplace where MPs and researchers work long hours. But two former Ruffley employees, who would only speak on condition of anonymity, allege that multiple employees have complained to the whips office about the MP's behaviour.
They allege the issue is known about at "very senior levels of the party". The whips office has yet to respond to requests for comment.
The claims follow the revelation that Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds, accepted a police caution following an incident involving his ex-partner Wendy Drew earlier this year. Scotland Yard has confirmed a 52-year-old man was arrested on 15 March at an address in Pimlico, central London. He was later taken to a police station where he accepted a caution for common assault.
Ruffley's former staff members, who spoke separately to BuzzFeed, said they were not surprised by the news after spending time working in his office.
"He was aggressive, manipulative and unconcerned for the consequences of his actions," alleged one former employee. "I watched vast numbers of staff come and go. Some quit, some just stopped turning up, some were fired and the office was always in a perpetual state of unease."
More than one former aide said Ruffley was prone to throwing items around the office.
"I saw him throw books at people's general direction," alleged one of the former workers.
Another former worker claimed Ruffley would sometimes throw things – "chairs or bins" – around the office, though he never hit anyone with anything.
But they claim the party machine was reluctant to deal directly with the issue, with one source alleging there was little protection for staff when they complained to the government whips office about feeling physically threatened by the MP.
"Essentially I was told that if [I thought] he was about to hit me, or one of the other staff members, we should collectively get our bags and walk out of the office," one source said.
Another source said of the working environment: "The girls would get called all sorts of names and insults both to their faces and to their colleagues behind their back. That happened all the time."
Such behaviour has resulted in Ruffley gaining a reputation within Westminster for having a high staff turnover, with one of the former employees alleging the MP lost three members of staff in one week: "There was a point where he started the week off with five members of staff. One worked out their notice, one quit and one got fired."
The official register of MPs' secretaries and research assistants suggests he employed at least 16 different staff members over a two year period during this parliamentary session. Both sources claimed the real number was higher because some employees did not last long enough to be officially registered.
"If you worked for any big firm, and behaved the way that he did, you'd be called in front of HR perpetually and you wouldn't have a job and they would be there to provide support for you if needed. And that just doesn't happen in parliament," said one former Ruffley staffer.
They added: "He's very smart, very sharp, very intuitive when it comes to policy matters but fundamentally he is not capable of maintaining and controlling a work environment."
Regarding Ruffley's position within the Conservatives, the former aide said: "I am so disappointed in my own party, so disappointed. I don't think he should be standing again at the next general election, I don't think his party should keep the whip with him."
Commenting on Ruffley's caution for assault, a spokesman for the Conservatives said: "This matter was investigated by the police and dealt with by them at the time."
The party referred other questions to the whips office. The whips office could not be reached for comment.
Ruffley's office has not so far responded to emails, voicemails and text messages requesting comment.