Fresh sleaze allegations hit the Government as Westminster’s swirl of sexual harassment claims continued to spiral.
Michael Fallon’s shock Cabinet resignation was cast in a new light as it emerged a journalist contacted Downing Street hours before his abrupt departure claiming that he had lunged at her and tried to kiss her on the lips in 2003.
Jane Merrick alleged in The Observer that the incident took place after a lunch when she was a 29-year-old junior political reporter. She said: “I felt humiliated, ashamed.
“Was I even guilty that maybe I had led him on in some way by drinking with him? After years of having a drink with so many other MPs who have not acted inappropriately towards me, I now know I was not.” Ms Merrick said she “shrank away in horror and ran off to my office in the Press Gallery” following the alleged incident.
The claims came as a wave of sexual harassment allegations sweeping Westminster showed little sign of easing. The Mail on Sunday reported that Tory whip Chris Pincher had been accused of making an unwanted pass at former Olympic rower and Conservative activist Alex Story. Mr Story wrote that Mr Pincher came across as a “pound shop Harvey Weinstein”.
Mr Pincher told the newspaper: “If Mr Story has ever felt offended by anything I said then I can only apologise to him.” Meanwhile, First Secretary of State Damian Green has strongly denied claims by a former police chief that pornographic material was found on one of his Commons computers.
The Sunday Times reported that ex-Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Bob Quick alleged the material was discovered by officers during an inquiry into government leaks in 2008. Mr Green, who is effectively British Prime Minister Theresa May’s deputy, said: “This story is completely untrue and comes from a tainted and untrustworthy source.”
The Sunday Times also reported that former health minister Dan Poulter has been referred to his party’s disciplinary committee over concerns about his behaviour. Elsewhere the Sunday Telegraph said Stephen Crabb has been referred for investigation under the party’s new code of conduct.
The allegations came as Labour’s Harriet Harman hit back at claims that a witch hunt against politicians was under way. The former deputy party leader told the BBC: “There are a lot of men saying this has been totally blown out of all proportion, this a witch hunt. No, it’s not a witch hunt, it’s long overdue.”
That view was at odds with Tory backbencher Sir Roger Gale, who, giving a hypothetical example of a woman claiming a man kissed her in a lift five years ago, told the BBC: “How does a Member of Parliament refute that? It’s a witch hunt.”
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said she was ashamed at some of the “disgusting” allegations of sexual abuse in the Labour Party.
Ms Thornberry, who said she had experienced inappropriate behaviour, told the BBC: “Some of the things that I have heard in the last week have been so disgusting and I am ashamed that this could happen in the Labour Party.”
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell called for party leaders to agree new independent procedures when they meet next week to discuss how to deal with sexual harassment claims, telling the BBC: “We have had sexual harassment across all the political parties by the looks of it. So, we have got to tackle it.”