UKIP man in Brussels faces harassment claim after trying to quash his sexist reputation

 

Brussels

For a politician who urged women to spend more time cleaning behind the fridge, it was a perfect opportunity to dismiss allegations of sexism.

For a politician who urged women to spend more time cleaning behind the fridge, it was a perfect opportunity to dismiss allegations of sexism.

But the decision by the UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom to invite a group of female students to Brussels backfired spectacularly yesterday, when one accused him of sexual harassment, misogyny, and use of offensive language.

In a formal letter of protest, Rebecca Bowtell, from Cambridge University, makes a litany of complaints against Mr Bloom and claims she witnessed the MEP "sexually harassing a number of women, and making a constant stream of sexist and misogynistic remarks."

Ms Bowtell, who is women's officer at Robinson College but says she belongs to no political party, claims she felt intimidated, and has threatened to refer the matter to the Belgian police. The alleged incident took place at a dinner in a restaurant in Brussels when members of the Cambridge University Women's Rugby Club, which is sponsored by Mr Bloom, were invited to visit the European Parliament.

In a letter of complaint to the president of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell, Ms Bowtell says: "Mr Bloom asked a colleague 'Isn't she the most delicious bimbette? Absolutely thick, but good tits'. Of the businesswoman who he had invited to share the platform at the next day's press conference, Mr Bloom had only four words: 'big tits, very feisty'."

Mr Bloom came to prominence in June when, newly elected to the European Parliament, he said he wanted to deal with women's issues because: "I just don't think they clean behind the fridge enough".

Since then he has revelled in his status as unofficial high priest of political incorrectness. But the allegations are damaging for UKIP which has nominated the maverick MEP as an alternate member of the women's rights committee of the European Parliament.

Last night Mr Bloom denied indulging in any sexual harassment, specifically rejecting the claim that he touched the student's leg, and said he would consult lawyers on the issue. He added: "I was not sitting at her table. My wife was at the dinner, there was no impropriety. The whole thing is complete and total nonsense. It has been concocted. She is following a political agenda. It was a grotesque abuse of hospitality."

However he did not deny making all the comments cited and, when asked if he had said "big tits, very feisty", Mr Bloom replied: "Possibly".

Rachel Shaw, director of the rugby club who attended the dinner, came to his defence arguing: "Godfrey says some risqué things, he is off-the-wall, but he has huge respect for women. There is no way Godfrey would compromise himself or his wife. And if I had seen anything that would have compromised the university I would have leapt in [to stop it]."

Ironically, the students' visit to Brussels was designed to show how Cambridge University rugby club backed Mr Bloom and supported his views that anti-discrimination laws ended up deterring businesses from employing young women.

Jens-Peter Bonde, co-president of the Independence and Democracy political grouping in which UKIP sits, promised a full investigation and said: "Sexual harassment is not permitted. I have not yet seen the letter but I take any allegations of sexual harassment seriously and will investigate it." Mr Borrell's office is expected to take up the matter.

Ms Bowtell says that she believed the visit to Brussels was funded by the MEP himself, but later discovered that it was paid for by the European Parliament which funds visits which, by convention, are for constituents.

She argues: "As none of us are actually Mr Bloom's constituents, my first complaint against him is that he is misusing EU funds to further his own ends, in this instance a PR exercise involving the Cambridge University Women's Rugby Team."

When challenged about his views, Ms Bowtell says the MEP warned "that he didn't want to be fucked around" and "regaled his listeners with tales of the journalists, and even fellow MEPs he had threatened with physical violence". She added: "I felt intimidated."

The letter says Mr Bloom's conversation "is littered with sexist, misogynistic remarks, and these are intimidating to the women he encounters. When I am able to secure testimony from others who were present I will seriously consider referring this matter to the Belgian police."

Ms Bowtell insisted last night that she approached the meeting with an open mind and had no political agenda. "I definitely did not go with my mind made up," she said.

Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for Cambridgeshire, said: "Mr Bloom has no business in offering subsidised visits for my constituents to the EU. Mr Bloom is reported to have said that Ms Bowtell could not be expected to understand him. It must be true that Mr Bloom is misunderstood because his views make no sense and have no value in the modern world.

"The accusations of sexual harassment have to be taken seriously and I encourage all witnesses from the visit to make their evidence available to the Belgian police."

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