Tory official says she was put under pressure to lie

Betsygate: Deputy director at Central Office vows 'to tell the truth' to parliamentary inquiry into payments to Iain Duncan Smith's wife
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A senior Tory official will tell the inquiry into Iain Duncan Smith's private office payments that she came under undue pressure to make a misleading statement to the investigation.

Vanessa Gearson, a deputy director at Conservative Central Office, is to give written and oral evidence to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner that will dispute the statements from Mr Duncan Smith, his wife Betsy and four of his aides.

Ms Gearson, former head of the Tory leader's private office, hinted yesterday she was determined to reveal all to the inquiry even if her stance cost her Central Office job. She said she would "tell the truth" and "stand up for my principles, no matter what the cost".

In her evidence to Sir Philip Mawer, Parliament's anti-sleaze watchdog, Ms Gearson will question Mr Duncan Smith's account of the arrangements in his private office when his wife was paid £15,000 as his diary secretary in the 15 months after he became Tory leader. Her allegation that pressure was put on her to rally to Mr Duncan Smith's defence could prove embarrassing to the Tory leader, particularly if such an action is criticised by the commissioner.

A friend of Ms Gearson told The Independent: "She was under pressure to make supportive statements which were untrue. The pressure came from many different sources. Obviously, that will be part of her submission."

Gill Sage, Ms Gearson's solicitor, said: "I can confirm my client has been asked to give evidence to the commissioner. My client will co-operate fully and will be presenting oral and documentary evidence."

The documents will include e-mails and memos that will paint a very different picture of events to those described in the 40-page dossier Mr Duncan Smith submitted on Monday.

They will include the e-mail in which Ms Gearson raised the alarm over the fact that Mrs Duncan Smith had, until recently, been paid from her husband's parliamentary allowances. She will also cite a memo she received from Christine Watson, the Tory leader's private secretary, saying she "was solely running Iain's very busy constituency office without assistance", which appeared to cast doubt on Mrs Duncan Smith playing a significant role.

Michael Crick, the investigative journalist who prompted the inquiry, is to submit another document giving his line-by-line analysis of Mr Duncan Smith's evidence.

The Tory leader has denied any pressure was put on Ms Gearson or anybody else to make statements. He has predicted that he will be exonerated by the commissioner. Yesterday, Tory MPs pulled back from the brink of forcing an immediate vote of confidence in their leader. Dissidents said they would almost certainly wait for the outcome of the "Betsygate" inquiry, saying it would be "inappropriate" to act while the investigation was under way. But some rebels said that they would press ahead with moves to oust him even if he was cleared by Sir Philip. "It will happen in mid-November," one predicted.

The leader's critics were increasingly confident they would secure the support of 25 MPs needed to trigger a vote. One said: "The 'Betsygate' affair does not change anything. We were not trying to oust him because he paid his wife. That is a side issue. But the real one - that we would do better under a different leader - has not gone away and we will face it."

David Maclean, the Tory Chief Whip, called in a handful of backbenchers who were accused of undermining last week's Tory conference, warning them about their future conduct. He was said to consider the issue closed.

Yesterday, Mr Duncan Smith fought back by putting in a combative performance at Prime Minister's Questions.

He said the council tax was "the biggest stealth tax of all," and two million more pensioners had become subject to means testing since Labour came to power and had to go "cap in hand" to the Government to make ends meet.

Mr Blair replied that the Government would cap councils' spending if necessary next year, and said the Tories would take away new pension credits of between £8 and £10 a week from two million pensioners.

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