Champagne Tory admits behaving 'rather foolishly'

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A Tory Party member who was arrested over claims he failed to pay for a £150 bottle of champagne today admitted behaving "rather foolishly".

Philip Whittington, 27, was banned from the party conference after he was held on suspicion of theft.

Mr Whittington said he always intended the pay for the champagne and described Monday's incident as "very regrettable".

He was detained overnight after staff at the Midland Hotel in Manchester called police but later released without charge after he explained it was a misunderstanding and he was willing to pay for the champagne.

Mr Whittington today told the London Evening Standard he was in "high spirits" but not drunk when he took the bottle from a fridge while no conference staff or hotel staff were around.

He said he was with a group of people who drank one bottle and had opened a second when the manager appeared and demanded payment.

Mr Whittington said he opened his wallet but an argument developed about how many bottles he should pay for.

"At that point my friends rather foolishly said I should make myself scarce, so rather foolishly I did and went outside the hotel, where the police got involved and arrested me, even though we had always intended to pay," he said.

"The party then rescinded my pass so on Tuesday afternoon I headed home.

"The whole thing is very regrettable but the police accepted I had not meant to steal anything."

Mr Whittington, who lives in London, has worked as a parliamentary researcher for Tory MP John Baron and the Centre for Social Justice think-tank, which was created by former party leader Iain Duncan Smith.

A Conservative Party spokesman said: "We have banned the individual from attending any further conference events and are considering what further action may need to be taken."

A Greater Manchester Police spokeswoman said: "A 27-year-old man from London was arrested on suspicion of theft following an incident at a city centre hotel on Monday.

"The man was questioned by officers and it was decided that no further action should be taken against him."

The incident happened on the same night that Conservative leader David Cameron was photographed enjoying a glass of bubbly at a conference party thrown by The Spectator magazine.

Party leader Eric Pickles had earlier warned the Tories against appearing triumphant at this week's gathering, saying: "I want to see less champagne bubbles and more bubbling activity."

An embarrassed Mr Cameron told an ITV News crew he would be avoiding champagne in future while his wife, Samantha, added: "He's had a good talking to."

Shadow prisons minister Alan Duncan and former leader Michael Howard have also been photographed drinking bubbly this week.

Mr Cameron's privileged upbringing has come under particular scrutiny with questions about the extent of his wealth and his time in Oxford University's controversial Bullingdon Club.