One of David Cameron's closest advisers was arrested after he disputed a train ticket, the Conservative Party admitted last night.
Steve Hilton, who as the Tory leader's head of strategy has been key to attempts to change the Conservatives' "nasty party" image – and who will be set for a central job in Downing Street if the party wins power – was fined for disorder after a confrontation with station staff in 2008.
Mr Hilton is thought to have been running to catch a train to London on the way home from the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham. According to Channel 4 News, an argument with staff at Birmingham New Street station erupted when he failed to show his ticket quickly enough. Police were then called.
He is said to have sworn, shouting "wanker", after which he was arrested and taken to Birmingham New Street police station. After apologising, he was de-arrested and issued with an £80 penalty notice for disorder.
"I can confirm that shortly before 5pm on Wednesday 1 October 2008, a 39-year-old man from London was arrested at Birmingham New Street railway station after a dispute over the production of his ticket," a spokesman for British Transport Police told Channel 4 News. "Once the man had calmed down, he was issued with a penalty notice for disorder under section 5 of the Public Order Act."
Questions will be asked about how and why news of Mr Hilton's arrest should be made public now.
The strategy guru, thought to be on a £200,000 salary, has attracted controversy recently after irritating some Tory MPs by bombarding them with emails discussing how they should be carrying out their roles. His "strategy bulletins", which are sent to some frontbench MPs, are said to have caused annoyance among some of Mr Cameron's top team. Some forwarded the bulletins to newspapers.
The emails often contain praise of "cool" projects hatched in the United States. One stated: "Here are some great examples of how harnessing the insights of behavioral economics and social psychology can help you to achieve your policy goals in a more effective and light-touch way."
Another, Strategy Bulletin No 2, sent on 23 October, asked bewildered MPs to keep an eye on "some cool stuff they're doing in San Francisco". The note added: "Transparency is a central component of our political approach. Along with decentralisation and accountability, it's one of the building blocks of the post-bureaucratic age." His reputation for promoting cutting-edge public relations techniques and using indecipherable jargon has become so well known that he inspired a character in the BBC's political satire, The Thick of It. The revelation of his arrest will come as an embarrassment to Mr Cameron, who had hoped to put the controversy over Mr Hilton's influence behind him.