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Coffee House

The Mike Hancock imbroglio

4 June 2013

12:49 PM

4 June 2013

12:49 PM

Mike Hancock last night resigned the Lib Dem whip to fight a court case that includes serious allegations about his conduct. He resigned after a meeting with the chief whip and the party’s deputy leader Simon Hughes about the claims, which he strenuously denies. A party spokesman said last night: ‘Mike Hancock strenuously denies the allegations made in the civil case and intends to clear his name in court.’

But as The Spectator reported, the party has been aware of allegations about Hancock’s behaviour for a number of years. In March, Julie Bindel outlined the leadership’s reaction to a complaint from a constituent:

‘Nick Clegg received a written complaint about the behaviour of one of his MPs in March 2011, in a case that says much about the Lib Dems’ attitudes to sexual harassment. Clegg was informed that Mike Hancock, Member for Portsmouth South, ‘cannot be trusted and is a liability to women, public and your party’. The letter was from one of his constituents, who showed me a copy. Not only was there no investigation; there was not even the courtesy of a reply.

‘Annie (not her real name) approached Hancock in 2009 over problems with noisy neighbours and respite care for her son. She told him about her mental health problems (brought about by childhood sexual abuse) and that she had been diagnosed with a ‘borderline personality disorder’. Over the following months Hancock began to see Annie regularly, to buy her gifts, including a teddy bear he named ‘Mike’, and once took her out to dinner at the House of Commons. Hancock would send Annie regular text messages, all of which she has kept. Such as: ‘Please give me a chance you never know my Princess xxx’ and ‘…you are special and sexy to me’.

‘Annie did not want a sexual relationship, and felt confused that such a powerful man had shown an interest in her. The following summer Annie broke down and told her family support worker about Hancock’s behaviour, and gave her permission to report him to the police. ‘I made a statement to police but something about their response left me wondering if anything would be done about him,’ she told me. ‘Hancock is such a powerful man after all.’

‘She went to the press and the police. Hancock was arrested. He has always vigorously denied any misconduct, and the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient evidence to proceed. Annie approached a civil action lawyer, who wrote to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. But she encountered Westminster rules again: she was told that the Committee ‘cannot consider the way a Member deals with a particular constituent’s case, and nor does the code extend to a Member’s private and personal life’. Annie had thought the code obliged MPs to ‘maintain and strengthen the public’s trust’. As she puts it: ‘I went to him as my MP. I didn’t meet him at a party. He immediately began to go after me. What else do you call giving a present of a teddy bear sprayed with his aftershave?’

‘But if the Commons watchdog could not take action, she believed that the Liberal Democrat party would. Parties can, after all, withdraw the whip from anyone they regard as an embarrassment — as Nadine Dorries found out. She was stripped of the right to call herself a Tory MP after appearing on a reality TV show. So perhaps the Lib Dems would take similar action against Hancock. But the Lib Dems did not want to know. If the police and Commons authorities had not acted, they told Annie, neither would they.

‘In despair, Annie sent details of Hancock’s behaviour directly to Lib Dem-led Ports-mouth City Council, where he sits on several high-profile committees. They replied that their investigation protocol was complicated (they blamed the new Localism Act) and would be dealt with by a subcommittee. Five months later, nothing has happened — because Hancock has repeatedly requested adjournments on grounds of ill health. On 1 February, the day that the subcommittee was due to meet to consider the complaint, Hancock was working at his constituency office, and during the afternoon attended a meeting with local traders.

You can read the full piece here.

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