5 Nov 2017

Sexual misconduct allegations spread from Westminster

5:53 pm on 5 November 2017

Fresh sleaze allegations have hit the British Government as Westminster's swirl of sexual harassment claims continue to spread to other regions in Britain.

A Union Flag against the backdrop of British Parliament's Big Ben.

A Union Flag against the backdrop of British Parliament's Big Ben. Photo: AFP

Sir Michael Fallon's shock Cabinet resignation last week was cast in new light, as it emerged a journalist contacted Downing Street hours before his abrupt departure claiming the former defence secretary lunged at her and tried to kiss her on the lips in 2003.

Jane Merrick told The Observer the incident took place after a lunch when she was a 29-year-old junior political reporter.

"I felt humiliated, ashamed," she said.

"Was I even guilty that maybe I had led him on in some way by drinking with him? After years of having a drink with so many other MPs who have not acted inappropriately towards me, I now know I was not."

The claims came as a wave of sexual harassment allegations sweeping Westminster showed little sign of easing.

The Mail on Sunday reported that Tory whip Chris Pincher was accused of making an unwanted pass at former Olympic rower and Conservative activist Alex Story.

Pincher told the newspaper: "If Mr Story has ever felt offended by anything I said then I can only apologise to him."

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Sir Michael Fallon Photo: AFP

Meanwhile, First Secretary of State Damian Green has strongly denied claims by a former police chief that pornographic material was found on one of his Commons computers.

The Sunday Times reported that ex-Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Bob Quick alleged the material was discovered by officers during an inquiry into government leaks in 2008.

Mr Green, who is effectively Prime Minister Theresa May's deputy, said: "This story is completely untrue and comes from a tainted and untrustworthy source."

The allegations came as Labour's Harriet Harman hit back at claims that a witch hunt against politicians was under way.

The former deputy party leader told the BBC: "There are a lot of men saying this has been totally blown out of all proportion, this a witch hunt. No, it's not a witch hunt, it's long overdue."

Scottish Parliament hit

A Scottish government minister has resigned over previous actions which he said were considered "inappropriate".

Mark McDonald, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Donside, said he was stepping down from his role as childcare and early years minister.

He apologised and said his attempts to be "humourous" or "friendly" may have led others to become uncomfortable.

He is one of two Scottish National Party members currently being investigated by the party over possible misconduct.

It is understood the allegations against him are not criminal in nature. The other complaint being investigated by the SNP does not relate to a parliamentarian.

In a statement he said: "It has been brought to my attention that some of my previous actions have been considered to be inappropriate - where I have believed myself to have been merely humorous or attempting to be friendly, my behaviour might have made others uncomfortable or led them to question my intentions.

"My behaviour is entirely my responsibility and I apologise unreservedly to anyone I have upset or who might have found my behaviour inappropriate.

"In light of my position in government, I believe it would not be appropriate for me to continue to serve in my role in the Scottish government at this time and I have tendered my resignation as a minister.

Earlier this week First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney both warned men - including those in the SNP - to reflect on their behaviour as allegations of sexual harassment reached Holyrood.

A spokesperson for the first minister said: "Mark has taken the right action in apologising and recognising that in his current role it would be inappropriate for him to remain in government.

"As the deputy first minister told parliament earlier in the week it is right that men take responsibility for their behaviour and it is to Mark's credit that he has done so."

A confidential phone line has been launched and an anonymised survey is to be carried out to determine the extent of sexual harassment at the Scottish Parliament.