A Tory MP who apologised after receiving a police caution for a domestic assault has been referred by the party to chief whip Michael Gove, a Conservative source has confirmed.
Former shadow police minister David Ruffley revealed in a statement today that he had apologised to his former partner in relation to the incident in March, which led to him accepting a caution for common assault. He said the woman had accepted his apology and stressed that he did not condone domestic violence "under any circumstances".
It is understood that Mr Gove wants to establish exactly what happened. He has the power to strip MPs of the party whip at Westminster if wrongdoing is found.
The party had previously responded to queries about the assault by saying that the issue "was dealt with at the time by the police", and the decision to refer Mr Ruffley to the chief whip for investigation was being seen in Westminster as a significant development.
Mr Ruffley is facing pressure from within his Bury St Edmunds constituency, with a senior Church of England cleric warning that he had "lost the confidence" of voters in the Suffolk town, while the county's Police and Crime Commissioner described behaviour of the kind for which he apologised as "inexcusable".
The Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, the Very Rev Frances Ward has written a letter to Mr Ruffley, saying his position has become "untenable". Key Tories, including Mr Gove, also received copies.
In the July 18 letter, Dr Ward said events in Mr Ruffley's private life had had an impact on his ability to represent the town.
She wrote: " I had received sufficient comment and concern from a wide circle of people, both within the cathedral and through the town and county, to have arrived at the opinion that your position is untenable.
"I hope you take on board the extent of the concerns that I shared with you, for the sake of the town of Bury St Edmunds and the Conservative Party.
"It is my belief that you have lost the confidence of a significant proportion of your former supporters and should consider your position."
The county's Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore, also raised concerns, saying in a statement : "I t was particularly disturbing for me to hear that one of our Suffolk Members of Parliament accepted a police caution for a domestic abuse offence which, I understand, took place in London a while ago.
"I would like to make it absolutely clear that domestic abuse is never acceptable under any circumstance.
"The future of David Ruffley as a Member of Parliament and prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for the Bury St Edmunds constituency is a matter for their association but I hope I have made my views entirely clear - such behaviour is inexcusable.
"Those of us in a leadership role in society must do our level best at all times and try to set a good example to others in what we do and how we behave - that includes all politicians regardless of any party affiliation.
"In my opinion there cannot and must not be any hiding place for the perpetrators of such brutal crimes."
In his statement issued through his lawyers Kingsley Napley, Mr Ruffley said he apologised to the woman "some time" after receiving the caution.
He added: "In March this year, an incident occurred between me and my former partner, resulting in inappropriate action on my part, which I deeply regret.
"I am pleased to be able to say that she has accepted my apology. I have refrained from making any public statement on this matter as it is a deeply personal matter.
"It is my understanding that my former partner wishes the incident to remain private.
"The incident was dealt with by the police and I accepted responsibility for my actions at the time.
"I regret this matter in its entirety and the position in which I put my former partner and I now ask that her privacy be respected."
The Bury St Edmunds Conservative Association, which is reportedly due to discuss the issue next week, has not responded to requests for comment.
The neighbouring West Suffolk Conservative Association would not be drawn on the issue.
The MP, who has represented the seat since 1997, was given leave from the party in 2010 after suffering minor injuries when he was hit by a train at Victoria station in London.
At the time he was reported to be suffering from depression.