Tuesday, April 9

Tories putting party reputation before sexual assault claim, says alleged victim | Conservatives


An alleged victim of a serious sexual assault by a Conservative MP has accused the central party of being more concerned with protecting its own reputation than her welfare after it failed to formally investigate her complaint.

The woman, who must remain anonymous for legal reasons, claims to have told party whips about the alleged attack almost immediately afterwards, but no internal investigation took place.

Her mental health subsequently deteriorated to such an extent that Conservative headquarters paid £15,000 for her to receive treatment at a private hospital.

Speaking to the media for the first time, the woman said she remained upset that party chiefs failed to investigate the MP, and that she believed the central party’s poor handling of sexual misconduct complaints continues to put people at risk.

“I want to make sure changes are made so that this never happens again,” she told the Guardian. “The complaints system is incredibly opaque. It needs to change now but it never will if the party remains more concerned with covering stuff like this up than the welfare of those involved.

“No other major organisation would take no action if an individual came to them with an issue like this. There would be processes and procedures in place that would immediately be enacted regardless of whether anyone involved was brave enough to go to the police.”

The woman said she told party representatives about the incident “almost immediately … but no action was taken. I felt like the central party system didn’t care about anything except protecting its own reputation.

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“I was extremely worried about how many other people in the past, or sadly in the future, would be similarly affected. And under the current leadership, unlike previous administrations, I have felt I became a problem, not a person, which has affected my health almost as much as the original incident.”

However, the woman said that when she first came forward she had felt “heard” by several people who fought the “nonexistent Conservative party system” on her behalf.

“There were a small number of women from both the two main parties supporting me emotionally, which was in their own time, not part of their job, and for which I will be forever grateful.

“I also appreciated the support the central party provided by paying for me to go to a private hospital. I was assured that it would be private, but unfortunately it was not and was reported by the press.”

It was first reported last year that the Conservative party had paid for the alleged victim to receive treatment.

The Guardian understands the police confirmed to the alleged victim that several senior figures in the party, including in the whips’ office and at party headquarters, knew of her allegation.

The woman said she made an official, in-person, complaint to the Tory whips’ office and subsequently made clear to them that she wanted it to be investigated.

Within days of informing the party, the woman received a handwritten note on headed paper from a then whip who suggested she speak to the police. She did not feel comfortable going to the police at that time. They also gave her details of a charity that could help.

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She later spoke to Simon Hart, the current chief whip, who she said told her he could not remove the whip unless she made a formal complaint to the police.

She claimed Hart suggested that if she did not, and subsequent allegations arose, she would be partly responsible. A source close to Hart said he denied that claim and suggested he had acted quickly.

Oliver Dowden, who is now Rishi Sunak’s deputy prime minister, was believed to have been made aware of the allegation when he was the party chair. A source close to Dowden said: “At no point was this very serious allegation raised with Oliver Dowden by the police or anyone else.”

Dowden has previously denied the party covered up allegations against one of its MPs, specifically rejecting the idea there had been any kind of cover-up during his time in charge.

After the woman did report the allegation to police, the MP was stripped of the Conservative whip and agreed to stay away from the parliamentary estate. The woman said she had since withdrawn from the police investigation because of the additional stress of her situation.

The police have said they are investigating separate allegations against the MP. He has not been arrested and has previously denied any wrongdoing.

A Conservative party spokesperson said: “We have an established code of conduct and formal processes where complaints can be made in confidence. The party considers all complaints made under the code of conduct, but does not conduct investigations where the party would not be considered to have primary jurisdiction over another authority, such as the police.

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“Where the party becomes aware of a complaint relating to possible criminal activity, we encourage the complainant to report this to the police. Additionally, for matters pertaining to parliament, the ICGS [independent complaints and grievance system] is an independent body set up by parliament, and the Conservative party respects its processes.”

A police spokesperson said a number of non-recent allegations relating to the MP were being investigated. “A man has been voluntarily interviewed in connection with an investigation into allegations of serious sexual assault,” they said.

“We would also remind everyone that victims of sexual offences are entitled to lifelong anonymity, regardless of how a case proceeds.”


www.theguardian.com

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