Chief whip says alleged rape is matter for police after woman says he ‘did not take her seriously’

Party’s chief whip had conversation with alleged victim on 1 April – four months ago

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Monday 03 August 2020 20:17
Conservative chief whip says government takes MP rape investigation ‘very seriously’

The Conservative chief whip Mark Spencer has said that an alleged rape by a sitting MP is a matter for the police to investigate, after an unnamed woman accused Mr Spencer of not taking her “seriously”.

Pressure is escalating on the Tories to suspend the accused former minister – a man in his fifties who has not been identified – after he was arrested and questioned over the weekend, before being released on bail pending further inquiries by the Metropolitan Police.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Spencer said: “These are very serious allegations and we do take those allegations very seriously. I think it’s down to the police to do that thorough investigation, not the whips’ office to investigate this alleged crime. It is for the police and the authorities to do that.”

“Once they’ve come to that conclusion, then we can assess where we’re at and the position that the MP finds themselves in,” he added.

Earlier it emerged that the alleged victim claimed to have spoken with Mr Spencer on 1 April – over four months ago – before going to the police with allegations of rape, sexual assault and coercive control against the unnamed MP.

The Daily Telegraph said Mr Spencer denied that any allegations of serious sexual assault were made during the conversation and that he had advised the woman to contact the appropriate authorities.

However, in an interview with The Times last week, the woman, a former parliamentary researcher in her twenties, said of her conversation with the chief whip: “I felt like he did not take me seriously or recognise the severity of what happened.”

A spokesperson for the chief whip told The Independent: “The chief whip takes all allegations of harassment and abuse extremely seriously and has encouraged anybody who has approached him to contact the appropriate authorities, including parliament’s independent complaints and grievance scheme, which can carry out independent and confidential investigations. As this matter is now in the hands of police, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

On Sunday, Labour frontbencher Jess Phillips said it was “shocking” that the Conservative whip had not been withdrawn from the former minister, while the Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said the Conservative whips’ office should “think again” about putting its decision over a suspension on hold until the conclusion of a police investigation.

Speaking about the allegations to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, business minister Nadhim Zahawi said he did not wish to speculate while there was a police investigation into the matter.

Asked about claims that the chief whip did not take any action after the alleged victim spoke to him, Mr Zahawi replied: “It’s only right that we wait for the police to complete their investigation. As has sometimes happened in these cases – and they are very, very serious cases – when the information is finally in the public domain, people realise as to why people have behaved in a particular way.

Tory chief whip Mark Spencer

“I think it’s only right that we wait until that police investigation is completed and then you’ll be hearing from the chief whip.”

His remarks come just days after former Tory MP Charlie Elphicke was found guilty on three counts of sexual assault against two women in 2007 and 2016.

Elphicke had been suspended from the Conservative Party in 2017 when the allegations were made, but the whip was restored the following year when there was a crucial confidence vote in the then prime minister, Theresa May.

Pressed on why there was a difference between the treatment of Elphicke by the Conservatives’ whips office at the time and the latest allegations against the unnamed MP, Mr Zahawi added: “Sometimes in these cases, when the information is in the public domain, people begin to understand why people have behaved in a particular way.”

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