William Wragg honey trap scandal is ‘extremely troubling’ says minister

Conservative colleagues fear the attack may be the work of a hostile foreign state

Zoe Grunewald
Friday 05 April 2024 12:30 BST
Oliver Dowden announced sanctions on China-linked groups following cyberattacks on UK democracy

Explosive revelations that a senior Conservative MP leaked colleagues’ phone numbers to a man he had met on the gay dating app Grindr are “very serious”, a minister has warned, amid questions over whether the MP will face sanctions.

Vice chairman of the 1922 committee William Wragg admitted he sent the numbers after becoming concerned about the power the recipient had over him since he had sent intimate pictures of himself.

Treasury minister Gareth Davies said the situation was “incredibly troubling and very serious” but maintained that Mr Wragg would keep the party whip while the incident is being investigated.

Talking to Sky News, Mr Davies said Mr Wragg has “rightly apologised for the action that he took” and urged anyone who felt that they were being blackmailed to “go to the police immediately”.

On Times Radio Mr Davies added that Mr Wragg “is continuing as a Conservative MP, and it’s right that there’s investigation into what happened. He’s rightly apologised, and, as I say, that’s a matter for Will Wragg and the party generally.”

The Metropolitan Police have now announced it is looking into the incident with parliamentary security and Leicestershire Police, who said it had received a complaint of “malicious communications” against a parliamentarian after a number of unsolicited messages were sent to a Leicestershire MP last month.

Westminster has been rocked by the new revelations after Politico revealed that staff across the house, which include MPs, members of their staff, and a political journalist, were later sent unsolicited flirtatious texts from senders calling themselves “Charlie” or “Abi” in a suspected spear phishing attack. Spear phishing is a type of targeted online sting.

Speaking to The Times, the vice-chairman of the 1922 committee said he provided the contact details to the unknown number after he feared the man had “compromising things on me”.

William Wragg has admitted his involvement in a honeytrap scheme targeting Westminster politicians (PA)

It is understood that two MPs responded by sending an explicit image of themselves.

Mr Wragg, 36, who is gay, told The Times: “They had compromising things on me. They wouldn’t leave me alone. They would ask for people. I gave them some numbers, not all of them. I told him to stop. He’s manipulated me and now I’ve hurt other people”.

“I got chatting to a guy on an app and we exchanged pictures. We were meant to meet up for drinks, but then didn’t. Then he started asking for numbers of people.

“I was worried because he had stuff on me. He gave me a WhatsApp number, which doesn’t work now.”

The MP for Hazel Grove in Greater Manchester added: “I’ve hurt people by being weak. I was scared. I’m mortified. I’m so sorry that my weakness has caused other people hurt.”

Politico originally reported on the scandal, revealing that MPs were sent late-night texts from an unknown sender, who claimed to have met them years ago in a bar.

Soon afterwards, they were sent an explicit image and asked to reciprocate. While many were said to have blocked “Charlie”, The Times reported that two MPs did respond with an explicit image of themselves.

One former MP told the BBC that he had been targeted, with a person called “Charlie” sending him an explicit image after being contacted on WhatsApp on 11 March. “The fact that somebody tried to and that their intent behind it was probably to do harm is really worrying,” he said.

MPs across the House have expressed concern about the revelations. Labour former shadow minister Jess Phillips questioned why an MP would send “nude images”, while her colleague Rosie Duffield asked why someone would “give out colleagues’ phone details without their permission”.

The new claims are stoking renewed fears around espionage and targeted foreign-state attacks on the UK democratic system.

In March the UK slapped sanctions on China after it accused state-backed hackers of carrying out two “malicious” cyberattacks, including one on Britain’s election watchdog and another on Conservative politicians.

In September 2023, a researcher at Parliament was arrested under the Official Secrets Act, amid claims he was spying for China. The Sunday Times reported that the researcher had access to security minister Tom Tugendhat and foreign affairs committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns, among other high-profile people.

Tory MP and staunch China hawk Bob Seely told Newsnight that he suspected the sting to be from a foreign state, stating that it was “crude enough to be the Russians,” but that “the Chinese tend to be more sophisticated.” He added: “I’m hoping [Wragg] hasn’t handed over my number. It sounds like a gay honey trap.”

Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith also told the Daily Mail that the attacks were likely Russian and urged authorities to increase security: “We’ve been slow to protect people...the government and security services have got to get on with it.

The former conservative leader said the attacks were an ‘assault on parliamentary democracy’ (AP)

“This is an assault on parliamentary democracy but everyone is scared stiff of calling out foreign agents”.

Mr Davies refused to say whether the party was opening a formal investigation into the latest revelations from Mr Wragg, telling Sky News:

"Well, there’s a police investigation that’s already been launched. And that’s right that that happens. In addition, the speaker has announced that the parliamentary security department are also going to be investigating this and it’s right that that takes place. I will say that there are very robust procedures and resources to members of parliament to protect us against a variety of different threats, including cyber security threats, and that will remain the case for a long time."

Mr Wragg was approached by the newspaper after MPs and other parliamentary figures confided in each other about their concerns and their suspicion of his involvement. The Independent has approached Mr Wragg for comment.

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