Labour MP resigns and triggers by-election after sexual misconduct finding

Katie Neame
©️ David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

Chris Matheson has resigned as Labour MP for City of Chester, triggering a by-election, after the parliamentary watchdog recommended he be suspended from the Commons for “serious sexual misconduct”.

The Independent Expert Panel (IEP) concluded in a report published today that the MP should be suspended from the Commons for four weeks following an inquiry into a complaint by a junior member of his staff.

A Labour spokesperson said: “This is an incredibly serious case. There must be a zero tolerance for sexual harassment and the Labour party has acted immediately following the ICGS findings. We will now select a candidate that the people of Chester can be proud to vote for.”

It is understood that Labour’s chief whip Alan Campbell informed Matheson that he had lost the party whip and that he should stand down as an MP and stay away from parliament, with the party launching an internal investigation into the MP’s conduct.

According to the watchdog’s report, the complainant alleged that Matheson had “behaved inappropriately towards her on a number of occasions”, including “unwanted touching” at work social events and a “sexually motivated invitation to take a secret trip to Gibraltar”.

The parliamentary commissioner for standards concluded that the invitation to Gibraltar was “sexually motivated, unwanted and had placed the complainant under pressure and intimidated her”.

The complaint also involved “sexually motivated incidents” at and after a formal work social dinner, including allegations that Matheson “invited her back to his flat, kissed her twice on the forehead and attempted to kiss her on the mouth”.

The commissioner upheld the allegation about Matheson’s conduct at the dinner as a breach of the sexual misconduct policy, concluding: “These were all unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances”.

The complaint was referred to the IEP in July to determine a sanction. A sub-panel concluded in August: “There is no doubt that [Matheson] was seeking to initiate a sexual relationship with the complainant, his junior employee.

“This wished-for relationship was unwanted and unwelcome throughout. The evidence confirms that his actions were entirely non-consensual, as well as threatening, intimidating, undermining and humiliating for the complainant.”

The sub-panel said Matheson’s “continuing failure to acknowledge the full extent of his misconduct” was an “aggravating factor”, adding: “It is insulting to the complainant. So too is his evidently false claim that he was acting only in a ‘fatherly’ or ‘friendly’ way towards her.

“In his excuses and denials, which he continues to persist in, he has sought to sow self-doubt and confusion in the mind of the complainant about his behaviour. That is quite unwarranted.”

Matheson confirmed in a statement today that he had resigned as MP for City of Chester. Commenting on the watchdog’s findings, he said: “I accepted I had committed a minor breach of the code and had hoped that an honest and open approach would stand me in a fair light. This has proven not to be the case.”

He said he was “dismayed” to have been found guilty of “several allegations” he claimed were untrue, adding: “My insistence on what I know to be true – that I had no sexual motivation in this matter – was held against me as a refusal to accept my guilt, and caused an increased sanction which I felt was disproportionate.”

Matheson described the four-week suspension recommended by the panel as an “excessive and unfair penalty” and claimed that his appeal against the sanction was “not even considered”.

According to the IEP report, Matheson appealed the sub-panel’s decision in September on the grounds that “it was unreasonable; fresh evidence had become available that could not have been presented to the original sub-panel; and that there were other compelling reasons for the appeal to be allowed”.

An appeal sub-panel concluded on October 14th that “none of the grounds of appeal” put forward by Matheson had “substance” and upheld the determination of the original sub-panel.

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