UK

A cabinet minister and a top Number 10 aide serve at the heart of Boris Johnson’s government despite allegations of sexual misconduct, a Sky News investigation can reveal.

Sky News has published testimony from two women who give detailed, first-hand accounts of what they claim happened to them when one was assaulted and the other groped by political figures who are both now in senior roles.

One woman claims the man involved – who currently serves in the cabinet – was “feeding her wine” despite her being obviously drunk. When she requested to go to bed “he didn’t leave me alone”.

Another woman alleges that she was groped by someone now working in Number 10 who remained in post after she complained about his appointment.

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Westminster assault victim speaks out

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Sky News is not naming the two men at the centre of the allegations to protect the victims.

This comes in the wake of the Chris Pincher scandal, when following the deputy chief whip’s resignation amid sexual misconduct allegations, questions were raised over what the prime minister already knew about his behaviour.

The fallout eventually ended Boris Johnson’s premiership.

Speaking to Sky News anonymously, an ex-parliamentary staff member for the Conservative Party relayed details of a sexual assault she alleges was at the hands of an MP who is now a cabinet minister.

She also said she has reason to believe the story has circulated within political circles but has not seriously hindered his career progression.

She said: “I was sexually assaulted by someone who’s now a cabinet minister, and I was in my early 20s and didn’t really know how to deal with it.

“I was super drunk. He’s feeding me more wine and I’m already quite obviously tanked. After a while, I was like, you know what? Would you mind if I just went to bed? So I went to bed.

“But obviously he didn’t leave me alone. And then I woke up the next morning and I realised what had happened.”

Later she told colleagues and the MP she was working for at the time, who encouraged her to report it to the police. After some initial discussions with the police, however, she chose not to proceed any further and did not make a formal complaint to the Conservative Party.

She explained: “I was too scared to kickstart that process and risk it spiralling out of control.”

She believes there is “nothing that I can do without putting my career in jeopardy” and “ruining my life”.

Extreme wide angle image showing the northern and eastern parts of the UK Houses of Parliament (Palace of Westminster) in central London.  Taken from Westminster Bridge.

A Conservative spokesperson said: “We have an established code of conduct and complaints procedure where people can report complaints in confidence. We take any complaint seriously.”

A government spokesperson said: “We take allegations of misconduct extremely seriously and there are robust procedures in place to raise concerns.

“All ministerial appointments also follow established processes.”

Ministerial appointments are made by the prime minister, with the civil service unable to veto any decisions.

‘The office he is going to be working in is full of women… and I just thought he’d do it again’

Sky News has also spoken to a former Conservative aide who has alleged that she was groped by a senior Number 10 employee before his appointment to a top job in Downing Street.

The woman – who worked at Number 10 when she says the incident happened – made multiple complaints about his appointment, but he remains in the role.

She said: “I heard that he was going to get a job in Downing Street. I raised it with a number of people.

“Nothing happened. So I then formally complained to the Cabinet Office. I just felt the responsibility to do it again, partly because the office he’s going to be working in is full of women. And I just thought he’d do it again.”

She also alleged that on hearing of the allegation, his boss – a close aide to the prime minister – dismissed it, on the grounds that the man was “good looking and had women throwing themselves at him”.

Sky News has confirmed these comments with another source who heard them directly.

A Conservative spokesperson said: “If an allegation of criminal wrongdoing is raised, we would always advise the individual to contact the police.”

A government spokesperson said: “All prospective government employees are subject to necessary checks and vetting. We do not comment on individuals.”

Mr Johnson was, earlier this week, asked whether he had done enough to tackle sexual misconduct in politics given that the Conservatives have faced numerous scandals during his premiership.

He replied: “All of those things have to be handled carefully and sensitively, and we have processes for dealing with them. And people who have complaints should raise them in the normal way.”

‘Some of the most dangerous people are probably the last people that you’d ever suspect’

The allegations form part of a long-running Sky News investigation into Westminster culture that spans all political parties and has taken testimony from staff, MPs and others on how sexual misconduct and bullying claims are treated in Westminster.

Some of those interviewed suggested that whilst names regularly circulated of political figures to stay away from, often no action was taken and this tended to have little impact on their career progression.

Conversely, many suggested that making a formal complaint about someone more senior in politics could damage their own job prospects.

Labour MP Charlotte Nichols
Image:
Labour MP Charlotte Nichols: Pic: Houses of Parliament

Labour MP Charlotte Nichols said: “In order to survive in Westminster, you do have to rely on that whisper network.

“Ultimately. It’s never going to be 100% effective. You know, some of the most dangerous people are probably the last people that you’d ever suspect.”

She also recounted her own experience of inappropriate behaviour from a senior MP.

“I have been repeatedly propositioned by an MP who is old enough to be my grandfather and sometimes in front of other colleagues who have either laughed it off or said nothing when he’s done it.

“I know from speaking to other people that, you know, this is not uncommon behaviour for him… It’s something that he clearly feels emboldened to do, that he feels entitled to do.”

Patrick Grady MP
Image:
Patrick Grady MP. Pic: Houses of Parliament

‘Basically, if it’s not rape it’s okay’

Sky News also spoke to a former SNP staff member who made a complaint about an MP, Patrick Grady, to parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) – the body that was set up in 2018 to deal with harassment and bullying.

His complaint was upheld and Mr Grady was found to have made unwanted sexual advances towards him and was suspended from the House of Commons for two days.

The victim claimed that following the year-long investigation he felt that he was forced to leave his job because it became a “non-role with no work to do and no route back to normality offered”.

He also claimed that the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford had mishandled the incident over a number of years.

He said: “Ian’s handling of this made everything a lot worse. And his failure to take responsibility for that. You know, it’s not just shocking, it’s disappointing, but it puts every staff member for the SNP at risk working for him.”

An SNP Westminster parliamentary group spokesperson said: “The SNP takes all complaints seriously and the parliamentary group fully accepted and implemented the recommendations of the ICGS – parliament’s fully independent complaints process.

“The individual concerned was offered support throughout the process and we have also initiated a review of staff support to consider any improvements that could be made.”

Speaking about Westminster culture, the former SNP staff member said: “There is a line of tolerance. You’re allowed to pat someone on the bum, you’re maybe allowed to put your finger down someone’s neck, maybe you can kiss them without consent, but you’re not allowed to rape them.

“And to me that is abhorrent and horrific, but it really does show the culture inside of Westminster, and how people view this kind of thing… basically if it’s not rape it’s okay.”

‘We take allegations of misconduct extremely seriously’

A House of Commons spokesperson said: “Bullying, harassment and sexual harassment have absolutely no place in parliament.

“The behaviour code makes clear the standards of behaviour expected of everyone in parliament – whether staff, members’ staff, members of the House of Lords, MPs or visitors.

“Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme was set up to enable anybody in the parliamentary community to report bullying, harassment, and sexual misconduct in confidence.

“We want to ensure that everyone working here feels able to report such instances. We know that at present there are still barriers to this happening – and that there is still work to be done to ensure that everyone is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

In The Open Secret, a three-part podcast series from Sky News, political correspondent Liz Bates reveals what else is being kept hidden in the corridors of power. Click to subscribe to The Open Secret wherever you get your podcasts.

She hears from others who have been scared to speak out and finds out why issues like these are rarely dealt with properly.

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