Sexual abuse in Westminster

Sexual abuse casts a long shadow over Westminster.

Last week we found out that former MP Mike Hill has been ordered to pay almost half a million pounds in damages to a former employee he sexually harassed and victimised.  Details can be found here. His insurance cover is said to be limited to £250,000 and to have been exhausted in legal costs.  The claimant is considering pursuing the House of Commons for any shortfall.

Last week we also heard that a male Conservative MP was arrested over allegations of sexual assault – including rape – dating back to 2002 – 2009.  This MP is not allowed to attend the House of Commons during the investigation. In accordance with their usual practice the Met Police have not named him, and the press have not reported his identity either.  This follows the February 2022 judgment of the Supreme Court case in the case of Bloomberg LP v ZXC [2022] UKSC 5.  The Supreme Court ruled that in general a person under criminal investigation has, prior to being charged, a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of information relating to that investigation.  The expectation is that if he is charged, he will be named.

There are now separate arrangements for investigating allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct via the Independent Complaint and Grievance Scheme. This new parliamentary watchdog has investigated more than 100 cases since 2018. Complaints against MPs or their staff are investigated by external independent investigators.

The list of MPs recently accused of inappropriate/sexual misconduct or worse, is now fairly long.

Inappropriate conduct

  • Damian Green – MP for Ashford – was sacked as first secretary of state in 2017 after pornographic images were found on his House of Commons computer.  He remains an MP.
  • Neil Parish – former MP for Tiverton and Honiton – resigned last month after admitting to watching porn on his phone in the House of Commons.

Inappropriate conduct involving others

  • Stephen Crabb – MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire – resigned from his post as pensions secretary in 2016 after allegations that he had sent suggestive text messages to a woman in her 20s.  He is still an MP.
  • Michael Fallon – former MP and defence secretary – resigned in 2017 after allegations surfaced of inappropriate behaviour or touching. He did not seek re-election in 2019 after more allegations surfaced.
  • Kelvin Hopkins – former MP for Luton North – was accused of inappropriate physical contact by an activist.  In 2017 he was suspended from the Labour Party pending an investigation.  He resigned from the Labour Party and continued to sit as an independent until 2019 when he stood down as an MP. 
  • David Warburton – MP for Somerton and Frome – had the whip removed in April.  He is under investigation by the new parliamentary watchdog after 3 women accused him of sexual harassment and cocaine use. 

Inappropriate conduct involving parliamentary staff or aides

  • Mark Garnier – junior trade minister and MP for Wyre Forest – was cleared of breaching the ministerial code in 2017. He had asked his former assistant to buy sex toys and had used a sexually explicit name for her.
  • Rob Roberts – MP for Delyn – was found to have made significant unwanted sexual advances to a former member of staff. He had the whip removed and was suspended from parliament. He was readmitted to the Conservative Party but now sits as an independent MP.
  • John Woodcock – former MP for Barrow and Furness – was suspended and later resigned from the Labour party after an internal investigation into inappropriate text messages apparently sent to a female former aide.  He continued to work as an MP and later a cross-bench peer.

Named in court

  • Mike Hill – former MP for Hartlepool – was found to have repeatedly sexually harassed and victimised a parliamentary staff member.  He has been ordered to pay her over £430,000 in damages. 
  • Andrew Griffiths – former MP for Burton and business minister – was named in family court proceedings – a fact which was made public in December 2021.  The judge concluded that over an 8-year period he had raped his wife (also an MP) and subjected her to coercive control. He resigned from his ministerial post in 2018 after sending thousands of sexually explicit messages to constituents.  He stepped down as an MP in 2019.

Convicted

  • Charlie Elphick – former MP for Dover – was convicted and jailed in 2020 for sexual assaults on 2 women, one of whom was a parliamentary worker.  He was described as a sexual predator. His wife replaced him as an MP.
  • Imran Ahmad Khan – former MP for Wakefield – was found guilty in April of sexually assaulting a 15-year old boy in 2008.  He has now resigned.  There are reports that he was selected to stand despite information about the police investigation made available to the Conservative Party.

Ongoing concerns over the parliamentary culture have led to calls for compulsory training in order to combat sexism and harassment. Clearly there is a need for a change of culture and whilst the individuals mentioned above are only a small percentage of the total to have so many examples amongst those who hold positions of power is shameful.


Written by Geneviève Rich at BLM (geneviève.rich@blmlaw.com)

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