In November it was revealed, through the publication of former cabinet minister Nadine Dorries’ book, that an MP had committed sexual offences against up to five individuals, with two of these offences being rape. Furthermore, in a letter included in Dorries’ book, former Chairman Sir Jake Berry stated that a number of these offences were made known to the party, but that limited action had taken place in response. He goes on to make the very serious claim that the party had gone as far as to pay for one of the individuals that had been subjected to sexual violence to have treatment at a private hospital, rather than go to the police.
Dorries and Sir Jake claim they asked a Downing Street adviser and a senior MP to launch an internal investigation into this case. The findings of this investigation are stated to be:
‘If this did end up in court, not only would [one of the individuals subjected to sexual violence] be poorly served and have a poor success rate but the party would be severely at risk of prosecution because of the peacemeal approach we have applied in this case and no doubt others'.
Current government officials have given very little information on the subject. When asked to comment on rumours that his party had paid for one individual’s medical bills current Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden stated that he ‘could not say for certain’ whether or not this happened. This prompted GB News interviewer Camilla Tominey to ask, ‘surely there can’t be that many people whose private hospital fees might have been paid by the party’.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reassured the public that these offences were being taken very seriously and expressed faith in parliament’s ‘robust independent complaint procedures.’
The ‘robust procedures’ he refers to is the independent complaints and grievances scheme (ICGS) which was established in 2018 and has since received several criticisms for the length of time taken to reach a conclusion on many of the complaints submitted. In the most recent yearly review of the scheme, released in June 2022, it was found that complaints often took up to two years to be dealt with. This may be part of the reason that one in ten complaints made are later withdrawn by the complainant. In 2022, 47 of the 248 complaints made up to the 24th of May did not proceed to the final assessment stage. Of these 47 cases, 27 were not assessed because the complainant withdrew their complaint.
Speaking to Vice about these numbers, former parliamentary assistant Becky Paton said: ‘In terms of complainants pulling out, it sounds about right (…) 248 I’d say is only scratching the surface from the amount of people I’ve spoken to that are making allegations but haven’t gone to the ICGS’.
Paton further suggested that it was the ICGS’s lack of formal power that led to complainant’s distrust of the system, with many feeling that the investigation process was simply not worth the final outcome.
Also speaking to Vice, Jenny Symmons, senior parliamentary researcher and chair of the trade union GMB, posited that there was a fear among individuals subjected to sexual violence or abuse that they could be putting their reputations at risk by coming forward.
Indeed, in this case, when the offending MP was notified that the first individual had come forward, he is said to have proceeded on a spree of discrediting them. The party allowed this behaviour, and for this individual to be consequently discredited. The second individual to come forward with another case of rape by the same MP then refused to go to the police because she was frightened about her attacker similarly destroying her reputation. Sir Jake suggests that had the first complaint been handled correctly, the second individual may have been more encouraged to go to the police.
In light of this context, it is difficult to find consolation in Rishi Sunak’s claim of faith in the ICGS. Parliament should be an ideal workplace, and one we can look to as an example of how to handle such things correctly. It the responsibility of those in Westminster to send a message to the rest of the country about which issues are taken seriously, and about who is protected during the process. This is only the most recent in a series of accusations of the mishandling of serious sexual offences. It is clear that parliament is an unsafe place of work. Individuals who have committed serious sexual offences remain free to move around parliament, to hold positions of power, to discredit the individuals they have submitted to sexual violence and abuse, and to reoffend.
- Izzi Workman