Mike Hancock has been suspended this afternoon as a Liberal Democrat councillor following the leak of the report into his conduct. The report, which was published in a redacted form, does not make comfortable reading at all, with some very unpleasant allegations from the constituent about his behaviour towards her, including that he forcibly kissed her, ‘asked for a wank or a quick suck’ and that he asked to be ‘the first one to road test drive’ her after a hysterectomy operation. You can read the report, sections of which have been redacted, here. Its author, Nigel Pascoe QC, has already expressed his concern about the redaction:
‘I have now seen for the first time the redacted version of my report, Public and Private Conduct, concerning Mr Michael Hancock MP. Whatever the legal reasons for redaction, which was not for me to decide, the overall effect is unsatisfactory in a number of ways. First, it does not carry the full reasoning for my conclusions and specifically my comments on a number of pieces of evidence.
‘Second, it does not set out the position of Mr Hancock as I perceived it to be, including a number of assumptions and comments that I set out clearly in his favour. Third, it edits the chronology of events in some respects that in my view, are unfortunate. Last, some of my conclusions have been omitted, although I can understand why that might have been done at this moment in time. I should add that there are other redactions of a minor character which I also understand.
‘It is for Portsmouth City Council and not for me to decide on its ultimate full publication and I have no intention of releasing myself redacted portions. But I am pleased that the partial release of the report has brought further information to the complainant, for whom I have expressed publicly my concern.’
Hancock issued his own statement before the suspension. A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said this afternoon:
‘The Liberal Democrats have this afternoon, for the first time, had sight of a Portsmouth City Council report by Nigel Pascoe QC into allegations of sexual impropriety by Mike Hancock. Mike Hancock resigned as a Liberal Democrat MP last year in order to contest allegations of sexual impropriety in a High Court civil action. Given Nigel Pascoe QC’s conclusions in his report, we have immediately suspended Mike Hancock’s membership of the party.’
This has obviously not been a good week for the Liberal Democrats. But how much of the party’s woes have been self-inflicted? In the Spectator last year, Julie Bindel wrote about the way the party had handled the allegations about Hancock:
It is certainly not limited to Rennard. 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.
Annie is not the first to find out that the Lib Dems have a tin ear for such matters. One former councillor, John Thompson, told me that he had sent a letter to the then party leader Paddy Ashdown, he of the famous nickname, expressing concern about Hancock’s behaviour in the 1990s, but that no response was ever received. It seems to have been filed in the same wastebasket as Lord Rennard’s case, from a party that seems willing to excuse anything from its powerful figures or MPs with large majorities.
Coincidentally, Helena Morrissey, who compiled the report into the way the party had handled the Rennard row, was paying a visit to Lib Dem HQ this afternoon. She had a rather polite summary of her advice to staff:
I enjoyed meeting @LibDems HQ staff – lots of great questions. I suggested that sometimes effecting real change is painful, but necessary.
— Helena Morrissey (@MorrisseyHelena) January 22, 2014