Tracking Westminster sexual harassment: what we know so far
Updated – 11th November 2017
Westminster has been under the spotlight for the past week over sexual harassment claims, with members from several political parties now facing inquiries into allegations ranging from inappropriate behaviour to sexual assault, which have already led to the suspension of several MPs.
Here’s the timeline of events so far.
Secret Whatsapp group revealed
It was revealed on Thursday that a secret Whatsapp group was being used by Westminster employees to share stories of sexual harassment they had received from MPs. The group is believed to include researchers, secretaries and aides linked to Westminster.
Theresa May said in a statement that she is “very concerned” by allegations of sexual harassment made against MPs by their staff, and vowed to take “serious action” if ministers are involved.
The Women’s Equality Party said in an interview with The National that the allegations were no surprise given the results of a survey the group carried out last year, which highlighted several incidents of harassment in Westminster.
In the wake of sexual harassment revelations, prime minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn both called on any Westminster staff members who had experienced sexual harassment or abuse to contact the House of Commons authorities or police to make formal reports.
Jeremy Corbyn said that a “warped and degrading culture” of harassment and abuse exists in Westminster, in a speech to members of the Unite union in Scotland. The Labour leader urged anyone with complaints to come forward.
Senior MPs raised complaints that allegations of sexual harassment were not being taken seriously enough by their parties and whips, despite years of warnings.
Meanwhile, it was revealed that married former cabinet minister Stephen Crabb sent a young woman sexually explicit messages after rejecting her application for a junior role in his parliamentary office. He now faces a disciplinary panel investigation.
A ‘dirty dossier’ of 36 names was published partially on political blog Guido Fawkes.
The names included in the redacted dossier:
Damian Green – First Secretary of State, and deputy PM
Stephen Crabb – Former Cabinet minister
Mark Garnier – International trade minister
Jake Berry – Minister
Justin Tomlinson – Former work and pensions minister
Michael Fabricant – Former party vice chairman
Robert Halfon – Former minister
Steve Double – Tory MP
Grant Shapps – Ex party chairman
Mark Menzies – Tory MP
Amber Rudd – Home Secretary
The dossier, despite alerting Westminster to the scale of the problem, was criticised by many for including serious claims of sexual harassment alongside trivial rumours of adultery and ‘sexual penchants’.
The Cabinet Office began an investigation into whether Conservative MP Mark Garnier broke the ministerial code by asking his former assistant to buy sex toys. Garnier was previously investigated by the Cabinet Office for sending explicit text messages to another young woman.
Allegations build – ‘dirty dossier’ published in the US
The ‘dirty dossier’ of 40 Conservative MPs was published in the US in full, including the names of six serving cabinet ministers. The dossier, published partially earlier in the week, includes serious allegations such as inappropriate advances and ‘handsy’ behaviour, alongside trivial rumours of adultery and ‘sexual penchants’.
As more cases emerged, young activist Bex Bailey revealed she was raped as a 19-year-old by a senior colleague at a Labour party event in 2011 but told not to report it by a senior Labour official.
“I was told that if I did it might damage me and that might be their genuine view, it might be that that was the case, in which case that shows that we have a serious problem in politics.”
Michael Fallon resigns as defense secretary
On Wednesday evening, Michael Fallon resigned as defense secretary, a day after complaints were brought against him for touching journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee during a dinner in 2002.
The resignation came despite Hartley-Brewer saying that she did not feel like she was a victim of a sexual assault, finding the incident “mildly amusing”, and the PM’s spokesman stating that there would not be an investigation into the allegation. In a statement, Fallon said that his behaviour had ‘fallen short’ of the standard expected of the armed forces.
The resignation of Theresa May’s closest aide has created renewed pressure on the PM, with many speculating as to how much the prime minister had been briefed on allegations prior to them becoming public. The PM is regularly briefed by Conservative Party Chief Whip Gavin Williamson on complaints which have been brought against her MPs.
News broken on Saturday of a sexual harassment claim against Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins, by party activist Ava Etemadzadeh. Ms Etemadzadeh claims that three years ago she complained that the MP for Luton North had ‘rubbed his crotch’ against her and sent suggestive texts. Despite Hopkins ‘absolutely and categorically’ denying allegations, he has been suspended from the party pending an investigation.
In Scotland, Mark Mcdonald, a Scottish National Party MSP, resigned over allegations of inappropriate behaviour. In a statement he said he apologised “unreservedly to anyone I have upset or who might have found my behaviour inappropriate.”
Interviewed as part of a cabinet office investigation, Theresa May laid out new procedures for dealing with allegations of impropriety within her own party, including a semi-independent grievances process for complaints, and a telephone hotline.
Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn stated that the party would be bringing forward an independent body to investigate the claims made against its party members.
Inquiry into deputy PM Damian Green begins.
The Ashford MP and First Secretary of State Damian Green has been accused of making unwanted advances towards Conservative activist Kate Maltby and sending inappropriate text messages. Conservative MPs Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen have both called for Green to resign in the wake of the inquiry.
Meanwhile, the Conservative assistant whip Chris Pincher resigned and referred himself to the police over claims he made unwanted advances towards a Conservative activist. He faces a disciplinary panel established under the new code of conduct for MPs.
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House of Commons authorities ignored rape claim
In a worrying claim, a woman claimed on Monday that she had been ignored by House of Commons authorities when she told them she had been raped by a senior Conservative Party figure. “It was violent. It wasn’t in Westminster, it was in my own home. And it shouldn’t have happened.” This was the statement from the Tory activist, who remains anonymous.
The day brought news of other sexual assault allegations brought against MPs, with former health minister Dan Poulter accused of putting ‘hands up skirts’ by his Conservative Party colleague Andrew Bridgen. Bridgen reported Poulter after three MPs told him they were reluctant to get into a lift with the MP after he had harassed them. Poulter denies all allegations. Meanwhile Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski is being investigated after claims he asked a female researcher to go on a date with a business associate of his.
On Monday evening, party leaders reached an agreement over new grievance procedures for sexual harassment claims. The measures will include face-to-face human resources support, and are supported by Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who went a step further today and wrote to the PM ahead of the meeting saying MPs should undergo training after each general election in employment standards.
Speaking after the meeting, May said “I’m sorry that we have seen these abuses of power – too many taking place over too many years.
“And the fact that they have taken place here at our seat of democracy should be a matter of shame for us all.”
“I think if this hasn’t happened to you it’s difficult to appreciate the impact that being a victim of this sort of behaviour can have, it simply has a lasting impact on people.”
Of the inquiries made public, four Conservative MPs and one Labour MP are currently facing questions, whilst Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP who was suspended by the party last week, has had his yet unknown allegation referred to the police.
On Tuesday, Carl Sargeant, a member of the Welsh Assembly, was found dead at his home, four days after being sacked as the cabinet secretary for communities and children. It is believed that he took his own life, because of the distress caused by an ongoing inquiry into his behaviour, the specifics of which he was not made aware of.
The Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, has defended the handling of the case, though he has allowed an inquiry into his “actions and decisions” by a senior QC. Carl Sargeant’s family have raised concerns that evidence may have been manipulated, to be used against him.
The Mirror revealed on Wednesday that David Prescott, Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet liaison aide, has been suspended from the Labour Party.
Labour have so far declined to give a reason for the suspension, saying they “do not comment on staffing matters”. The son of former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, David Prescott once stood as Labour’s candidate in Gainsborough in the 2015 election.