Woman ‘sexually harassed’ by ex-Hartlepool MP says Labour failed to support her

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer</span>
Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

A former Westminster staff member has accused Labour of abandoning her after she complained of being sexually assaulted and harassed by the party’s former MP for Hartlepool Mike Hill.

Known as Woman A, she told the Guardian that the party, under both Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn, had shown no interest in her wellbeing for the past 18 months.

She also questioned why Hill, under a parliamentary scheme, was fully insured for legal costs while she had struggled to pay legal bills while sleeping on friends’ sofas.

Hill resigned as Labour MP for Hartlepool in March, sparking Thursday’s byelection and a victory for the Conservatives. Hill will face claims of sexual harassment and victimisation, which he denies, at an employment tribunal in central London on Monday.

In a statement sent through her barrister, Woman A said she was disappointed in the lack of care shown by Labour. She said no one from the party had contacted her about the case for the past 19 months.

“I was not at all well supported by the Labour party, who I feel owed me some duty of care. My complaints have been ignored by those who could have intervened. They have shown no interest in my wellbeing,” she said. “I have had to rely on my family and lawyers for a good deal of support … whereas I understand Mr Hill is fully insured for all legal costs and damages.”

In September 2019, while Corbyn was Labour leader, Hill was suspended from the party following an accusation of sexual assault and harassment from Woman A. Hill, 57, who is married, is alleged to have “sexually harassed and sexually assaulted” the woman on several occasions and over many months.

He was accused of “fondling her breasts, touching her bottom and pressing against her”. Hill said he “completely rejected” the allegations.

The woman, who became unhappy with Labour’s handling of her case, asked the party to suspend its investigations until a parliamentary inquiry by the independent complaints and grievance scheme (ICGS) was completed.

The party then decided to restore the whip to Hill and reports claimed that she had dropped the case. Woman A said she suspected that a misleading claim that she had dropped the case had been leaked to the media. “Despite reports in the media that I withdrew the complaint, I never did. I am very concerned that someone or somebody circulated that untruth,” she said.

Pursuing the case has caused the claimant hardship because she has not worked since, and has been at times homeless and forced to sleep on the sofas of friends and family.

“My main allegations against Mr Hill are sexual harassment including sexual assault, and victimisation, including dismissing me for making complaints about his sexual assault, all of which have had a significant adverse impact on my mental health,” Woman A said.

She claimed the alleged sexual assault had robbed her of confidence and self-respect. “My not being able to work has also exacted a huge personal cost, it is humiliating and distressing. Full-time work for me was not just a way to make a living, it was a way to participate and contribute to society, which I am unable to do,” she said.

The House of Commons provides all MPs with employers’ liability insurance, which can be used to cover legal expenses if a dispute arises with a member of staff. It covers instances where a staff member could make a compensation claim. Records published by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority show Hill was paid £2,000 expenses in January for “employment liability policy excess”.

Suzanne McKie QC, of Farore Law, which represents Woman A, said: “I am struck by the inequality of financial arms, which is unfortunately often the case with sexual harassment complaints.

“I am also struck, as a lifelong Labour party voter, by the complete lack of interest on the part of the Labour party in the last 18 months, and a total lack of communication. Those in a position of power could have offered support or mediation (on a neutral basis), but they have done nothing. Words mean nothing without action.”

The tribunal is set to begin on 10 May and is expected to be heard over eight days. Witnesses are believed to include a sitting MP and a number of staff members. It is understood that the conclusion of an ICGS inquiry into Hill will be disclosed at the hearing.

Parliament’s ICGS was set up in 2018 as a way of dealing with allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct in Westminster. A review of the ICGS system in January concluded there is “a perception amongst some that it is a stressful, isolating and very lengthy process”.

It is understood Labour is in the process of reviewing the party’s complaints and sexual harassment procedures.

A spokesperson said: “The Labour party has a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and we take all complaints of this nature extremely seriously.”

Neither Hill nor his solicitors BLM Law responded to a request for a comment.