Mike Hill was found by an independent panel to have breached parliament’s sexual misconduct policy, a report published yesterday confirmed. The independent expert panel tasked with reviewing the parliamentary commissioner’s original findings upheld two, rather than just one, of the three allegations made by Hill’s former staffer. It upheld not only the claim that he subjected her to sexual misconduct in shared private accommodation, but also that he did so in his parliamentary office. Hill denies all allegations.
The panel describes the sexual misconduct proved as “of a serious nature”. Yet no sanction was applied: the panel would “likely” have recommended suspension from the House of Commons, but his resignation as Labour MP for Hartlepool means this was not an available option. Astonishingly, it was not recommended that he be denied a parliamentary pass, though the Speaker has done this anyway.
The Hill case is about this particular ex-MP, but not only about him. It has broader implications. The new report reflects badly on the original inquiry, conducted by an independent investigator and backed by the parliamentary commissioner for standards. It notes that when looking at the second allegation, sexual misconduct taking place in the office, the investigator applied the wrong standard of proof – a higher standard of sure or beyond reasonable doubt, rather than the balance of probabilities.
This also reflects badly on the Labour Party. When Hill quit last month, it was briefed that there was pressure on him to go and it was (wrongly) assumed by many of us that his membership was suspended. In fact, he was administratively suspended as a Labour member pending further investigation only yesterday, after this report was published.
A Labour spokesperson said: “The Labour Party has a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and we take all complaints extremely seriously. Complaints are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.” And therein lies a key problem: the party’s rules and procedures.
Labour paused its own initial investigation as the complainant was pursuing the case through parliament’s complaints and grievance scheme. It is said that the processes are separate and treated as such. But this raises serious questions around safeguarding, and sexual harassment lawyer Deeba Syed says it goes against EHRC and Acas guidance.
Why was the investigation paused to allow other processes to take place? Why is the safety of the woman in this case and of women across the party not a priority? The Labour Party’s sexual harassment process is set to become independent, along with all complaints procedures after the EHRC antisemitism report, but will this specific flaw be addressed? There has been no confirmation of that so far.
The full report by the independent expert panel can be read here. The decision from the employment tribunal is awaited. When MPs accused of wrongdoing by staff are taken to an employment tribunal, public money covers their costs. You can still donate to the complainant’s crowdfunder for her legal fees.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.