Westminster bullying: Male MP 'assaulted and stalked' female House of Commons employee

Ex-high court judge Dame Laura Cox found there was an 'urgent and serious problem' with harassment in Westminster

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 24 October 2018 15:25
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Former Parliament employee Lisette Walker describes her experience of bullying within House of Commons: 'It was brushed under the carpet'

An ex-Commons staffer has told how “nothing was done” after she was attacked by an MP and how her job saw her endure years of bullying and harassment.

Fighting back tears in a TV interview, Lisette Whittaker said she was diagnosed with post-traumatic disorder after she was assaulted by an unnamed politician, who stalked her for years without being punished.

Ms Whittaker is one of more than 80 former and current parliamentary staff to sign an unprecedented letter demanding a full overhaul of Commons procedures after Westminster was rocked by a damning report of abuse allegations.

The report, by former high court judge Dame Laura Cox, highlighted an “urgent and serious” problem. More than 200 complainants claimed to have been groped and propositioned, often by male MPs, in a culture of “deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence”.

Ms Whittaker started working for the European Scrutiny Committee in 1993 when she was 19. She spoke of constant harassment from the start and said she and other colleagues was referred to as “the Eurobabes”.

She told Sky News: “I was assaulted by an MP, I can only say now, and I did report it but nothing was done. In fact it was brushed under the carpet.

“It was made out that it was a sort of minor incident and what did I expect and what did I want them to do about it?”

The only person she could complain to was her manager, who often shouted at her and made inappropriate comments about her clothes.

Ms Whittaker said the MP went on to “stalk me for years”, adding: “He would find me. He would make a beeline for me in the staff cafeteria. He would come and sit with me.

“He would make a beeline for me and my friends knew, ‘Oh god here he comes’, and we would share our experiences of members behaving badly.

“You were just made to feel like you just had to get on with it, you just have to suck it up.”

Ms Whittaker said she had now reported the man to the police, after being urged to act by Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, who is spearheading the work to root out abuse in parliament.

She said other historic cases should be investigated and called for an apology to her and other victims over what has been dismissed as “part and parcel of this insular culture” at Westminster.

Ms Whittaker added: “I don’t think people appreciate how damaging it is to people and that’s the message that I want to get across.

“This is affecting everyday people, it is affecting their lives, it is affecting their careers.

“I felt there was no choice but for me to leave the House because I couldn’t cope with it any longer.”

It comes as senior figures on the House of Commons Commission were due to meet to discuss Dame Laura’s report amid pressure on speaker John Bercow to stand down over the allegations.

Mr Bercow has signalled his intentions to stand down in the summer but his critics claim a change in culture can only begin with a new speaker.

He will step aside from his normal role as chairman of the panel on Wednesday to discuss the report. The research was ordered after claims of bullying by MPs and other Commons staff, including Mr Bercow – allegations he strongly denied.

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