Shadow minister steps down after alleged interference in harassment case

©️ David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

Labour MP for Blackburn Kate Hollern has stepped down from her position as a local government shadow minister after being accused of interfering in a sexual harassment complaint against ex-MP Mike Hill.

In testimony at an employment tribunal hearing, Hollern was accused of trying to warn off a Conservative MP from helping a member of staff known as ‘Ms A’. The shadow minister resigned her post on Wednesday.

The claimant told the tribunal that she approached Tory Andrew Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire, for support in relation to her complaint. Bridgen confirmed that he met Ms A several times in 2018 and 2019.

Ms A, bringing the case against former Hartlepool representative Mike Hill, said she also confided in Hollern, who was at that point parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to Jeremy Corbyn, then Labour leader.

Ms A said: “Ms Hollern said that many people in parliament had put in complaints in the past of sexual harassment and nothing was ever done about it, which deterred me from seeking further advice at that time.”

Ms A said Bridgen told her: “Hollern said that many in the Labour Party were of the opinion that Mr Bridgen and I were having an affair and she advised him to keep away from me as it would be a shame if it got out in the papers as he had a lovely wife and new baby.”

“[Ms A] confided in me that she was being sexually harassed and assaulted by Mr Hill,” Bridgen said in his statement. “I was particularly upset about it at the time. She didn’t want me to take any action on her behalf.

“I watched her mental health and wellbeing disintegrate. For Kate Hollern to come and try and intimidate me, I totally believe it was to isolate Ms A from any help and support.”

Ms A alleged to the Central London tribunal that Hill, who quit as the MP for Hartlepool in March, conducted a campaign of sexual harassment and bullying against her over the 16-month period she worked in his office.

She said during her testimony on Tuesday that the former MP rubbed his penis against her and fondled her breasts. The tribunal heard that Hill climbed uninvited into her bed on twice. Ms A also accused him of harassing her in parliament.

She told the hearing that Hill had made her feel “scared, extremely confused, violated and powerless”, and claimed that he had sent her messages saying “I crave your body”, “I love you” and that he “wanted a sexual relationship”.

She said the MP would frequently grab her bottom if they were both in his parliamentary office. Hill’s lawyer challenged her, saying the harassment did not happen and that Ms A had initiated cuddles with Mr Hill. She denied the claim.

Ms A alleged that she was refused a pay rise and lost her job after declining the advances of Hill. She submitted a complaint of sexual assault, harassment and victimisation with the party and with the parliamentary complaints scheme.

The former Labour MP was suspended from the Labour Party in September 2019 and had the whip withdrawn amid allegations that he had sexually harassed a woman who worked in parliament. But he was reinstated in October the same year.

Responding to the testimony, Hollern said: “I am absolutely clear that any complaint of sexual harassment should be treated extremely seriously and had this been raised with me I would have taken the necessary action.

“It was never my intention to undermine the support the complainant was receiving, which I was unaware of at the time. If that is what Mr Bridgen was led to believe, I apologise for my error in judgement in having the conversation.”

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