Welsh Tories in turmoil after leader's GBH charge

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The Independent Online
A BATTLE for control of the Welsh Tory party broke out yesterday after Rod Richards, its Assembly leader, resigned to contest assault charges.

The former MP and junior minister described as "complete fabrication" allegations that he assaulted a young woman in a London street. He said he was standing down temporarily as leader of the Conservative group in the Welsh Assembly in the interests of his party and his family.

Mr Richards, 52, has been bailed to appear in court next month accused of causing grievous bodily harm to Cassandra Melvin, 22, in Kew, south- west London in July. "Clearly a serious charge of this nature is going to take up an awful lot of my time. I think the best way forward is for me to focus on clearing my name," he said.

Mr Richards has handed the leadership to his deputy, David Davies, 29, but some in the group of nine Tories are believed to prefer Nick Bourne, the finance spokesman. Mr Bourne was William Hague's choice for leader of the Welsh party but was narrowly defeated by Mr Richards in a ballot last autumn.

Mr Richards was known as "Redwood's Rottweiler" during his term as a Welsh Office minister and provoked uproar by calling all Welsh Labour councillors "fundamentally corrupt". His abrasive style has disrupted the consensus politics of the Assembly since it opened in May and some of Mr Bourne's supporters said yesterday it was time for a more moderate figure to take over. The group is set to re-elect its leader next month and may take the opportunity to ditch Mr Richards.

The Plaid Cymru leader, Dafydd Wigley, expressed concern that Mr Richards was the second prominent member of the Assembly to have problems. Last month, Ron Davies, the former Welsh secretary, stood down as chairman of the economic development committee after admitting he was having counselling after the affair of his pick-up on Clapham Common in south London.

"It takes the eye off the ball. There is so much work that needs to be done, not only by the Assembly itself but by each of the parties within the Assembly," Mr Wigley said.