Complainer in SNP Westminster sexual harassment scandal wants new investigation

24 June 2022, 15:29 | Updated: 24 June 2022, 22:11

Ian Blackford is still under pressure over his handling of a sexual harassment allegation
Ian Blackford is still under pressure over his handling of a sexual harassment allegation. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

The man who was sexually harassed by SNP MP Patrick Grady has slammed the party's Westminster leader Ian Blackford for making a "horrible ordeal" worse - and has called for the party whip to be removed from MP Patricia Gibson despite her winning her appeal against a finding of sexual misconduct by parliamentary authorities.

The SNP staffer, who was 19 at the time of the incident, said it had been "excruciating" for him to listen to Mr Blackford attempt to explain his support for the Glasgow North MP and rejected his claim that he did not have the power to remove the party whip.

He also said Mr Blackford should remove the whip from Patricia Gibson MP, despite her being cleared this week on appeal of a sexual misconduct charge, and his complaint against her reinvestigated when the new SNP process is implemented.

Responding to Mr Blackford's TV interviews last night, the complainer told LBC: "It was excruciating for me to see him still defend not only his actions, but defend Patrick's actions and defend the weak sanction that the party have dealt out.

"The sanction that Patrick Grady received was from the independent Expert Panel to the House of Commons. It was not advice to the Scottish National Party, they have their own process to follow, and it's not that they just mirror as he [Blackford] put it, the panel's sanction.

"And he was saying that he as leader of the Westminster group does not have the power to remove the whip from an MP in his group. That's a lie and I know it's a lie because when I worked in the whip’s office we had to deal with the issue of Margaret Ferrier [the MP who broke Covid rules] and it was Patrick Grady's decision as chief whip to remove the whip from Margaret, from the direction of Ian Blackford."

He added: "It seems to me really what's happened is the sanction dealt out was two days and the party have looked at that and thought, brilliant, only two days we'll just do the same."

He said there were also outstanding questions for Mr Blackford including just what support he believes he did offer the complainer - who has alleged he was "abandoned and isolated" by the SNP Westminster group and party.

"It's been a really horrible ordeal for me to go through and it's only getting worse the more that Ian talks and tries to defend himself," he said. "I heard him say that he's done nothing wrong. But meanwhile, he's still trying to apologise for the actions of Patrick Grady, who is solely responsible for his actions.

"Nicola Sturgeon also apologised yesterday for his actions. What they need to do is take effective action on Patrick Grady not to apologise for his actions."

The young man, who is considering legal action against the SNP, also expressed his "disappointment" in the IEP's decision to overturn the Standard Commissioner's finding of sexual misconduct on the part of Patricia Gibson.

The North Ayrshire and Arran MP had initially been found guilty of breaking the MP's code of conduct by the Standards Commissioner, but the Independent Expert Panel overturned that decision when she appealed.

It had been alleged that she had been "stroking" the complainer while drunk in the Commons' Strangers Bar in 2020 and had persistently asking him to "come home and shag me".

Mrs Gibson appealed the ruling - and said the complaint had been "malicious". The IEP granted her appeal saying the initial investigation had been "materially flawed" but that the complaint had not been "vexatious".

The MP said she felt "exonerated" and that her "reputation has been wrongly and repeatedly traduced in the press and on social media, which has also jeopardised my personal safety with threats, abuse and harassment."

However the complainer said he had "lost all faith" in the independent complaints scheme and had asked the IEP for more clarity on how it came to its decision to uphold her appeal.

"I'm really disappointed because if anybody's read the report, they will see why the case has been closed and why Patricia Gibson has not actually been cleared of anything," he said.

"The report states that they bungled the investigation and instead of reinvestigating my complaint, they've made the decision to go ahead and close the case without really much explanation to myself.

"I've asked for further explanation from the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme and the IEP but I've received no response from them.

"Patricia denies everything. She denies what happened that night because she was too drunk to remember what happened. Well, I remember what happened, as the multiple witnesses who came forward to the investigation and corroborated what I said do, so it's a massive confusion to me why they've done this and now they're just not explaining why.

"Of course, there's a wider issue of how the SNP deal with this. It's my view that a proper investigation needs to take place because it would uphold my complaint.

"The SNP have quite rightly said that they're going to launch a review and how they deal with these things and have a look at how they deal with harassment complaints. It's my view that if they're serious about that, Patricia Gibson should have the whip removed until the party have implemented this new process and then use it for my complaints with her and that the whip should be removed from Patricia until that happens."

An SNP Westminster parliamentary group spokesperson said: "While we cannot detail certain matters due to employee confidentiality, the group leadership has been at pains to ensure that any requests regarding working practices have been met wherever possible. That continues to be the case.

"Complaints regarding sexual misconduct are now – rightly – carried out by the independent Westminster process, so that there can be no suggestion of political interference in decision making by individual parties. We are bound by their decisions."

A House of Commons spokesperson said: "This is the first case where an appeal has been successful. And while we are confident this shows the robustness of the process, all parts of the House Service involved with the ICGS are concerned that, in this instance, the investigation did not meet our high standards and we apologise for this.

"We are working together to learn from these mistakes and build on existing work to procure new investigators and train them better, and clarify the oversight arrangements between the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the ICGS. 

"We will report further on what we are doing this autumn in the ICGS annual report. Bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct have no place in Parliament. The ICGS is here for any member of the parliamentary community who needs it. We would urge people who need it to use it."