Mike Hancock: Portsmouth Lib Dems issue statement

We reported on Wednesday that the Lib Dems had suspended Mike Hancock’s party membership following the leaking of a report commissioned by Portsmouth City Council into allegations of sexual assault against the MP who is a also a councillor.

Tonight Portsmouth Liberal Democrats have issued this statement:

We have today been made aware that Liberal Democrat HQ has received a complaint about Mike Hancock and has, pending investigation of that report, suspended Mike Hancock’s membership of the party.

There is an ongoing civil court case on the issues raised in the complaints to Portsmouth City Council and to the Lib Dems nationally. Furthermore, the Police have investigated this complaint twice and found there to be no case to proceed with on both occasions. We believe in proper and due process and that as there is an ongoing court case, it is the court that should rule first, having considered all the evidence, not the media or internal panels.

Mike Hancock has loyally represented the people of Portsmouth for over 40 years and he will continue to serve as an excellent constituency MP and as a councillor.

The Lib Dem group decided tonight that Mike Hancock should continue to serve in the Lib Dem-run council’s cabinet, according to the local paper:

In a statement read out by deputy leader Councillor Hugh Mason they said: ‘The group decided that the Independent councillor Mike Hancock should retain his seat on the cabinet of the city council.

‘This was decided because Cllr Hancock is best placed to fulfil the role of cabinet member for planning, regeneration and economic development.

‘Cllr Mike Hancock no longer remains a member of the Portsmouth City Council Liberal Democrat Group because, having had his membership suspended by the party at national level, it is not possible for him to remain a member of the city council group until the suspension is lifted.

‘The group acknowledges that the suspension has been imposed before the issue to which suspension relates has been properly and fairly determined through due process in the courts.’

Meanwhile the BBC reports that the alleged sexual assault victim of Mike Hancock has won the right to see a full version of a report about her accusations in court:

Portsmouth City Council, where Mr Hancock is a councillor, opposed the application. A redacted version of the QC’s report has already been leaked.

Master Leslie, a High Court official, ruled she should feel she had “a fair hearing and a fair crack of the whip”. …

QC Nigel Pascoe’s report into claims of sexual misconduct towards a female constituent with mental health issues had not been officially published but the Liberal Democrat-led council must now make it available to her. In the report, Mr Pascoe said the woman deserved “compassion and respect” and the account she gave was “credible”.

Lawyers acting for the alleged sexual assault victim of the MP had asked the High Court to force the full disclosure of the report at a forthcoming civil court action.

Speaking after the ruling, the woman’s solicitor said her client had faced “barrier after barrier” to having her allegations heard. Harriet Wistrich said the document would form part of a civil claim she was making against Mr Hancock. She also criticised the conduct of Portsmouth’s Liberal Democrat councillors.

“They’ve taken a very very obstructive approach to this complaint being looked at properly and I think their conduct is really up for question,” she said.

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  • Yeauch.

    10/10 for loyalty, but given that there is an ongoing civil case, surely it would be better to ask Mike to step aside from the cabinet until the conclusion (he denies allegations so leaves door open if found innocent.) That allows due process to take place without damaging the party any further.

    How can he be the best person to hold the planning portfolio when he is distracted by the court case (and his duties as an MP?)

    I think the local party have got this wrong and should think again.

  • Tony Dawson 25th Jan '14 - 9:06am

    Consistency is required in the application of suspensions in the Liberal Democrats. As Borough Party Chair, I suspended a Councillor and Council candidate from a Local Party approved list several years ago because he had been accused of a relatively-minor Council Tax matter. Unfortunately, the timing of this issue meant that he was unable to stand as a Lib Dem candidate to renew his mandate in his seat, which created considerable bad feeling. I still feel that the decision was the right one. You suspend people who are ‘seriously under a cloud’ to create ‘clear water’ between the Party and the individual while the matters are determined. Suspension should come with no allusion towards either guilt or innocence.

    Chris Huhne should have been suspended long before his case got anywhere near court. Nobody has yet given any kind of sensible reason why this did not take place. Chris Rennard should not have been suspended much earlier because there was no ‘finding of fact’ process (as there should have been) at the time. It is not at all clear to me whether the processes which have since led to his suspension have any proper procedural basis, whatever one’s views on the evidence and the issues.

    I do not know enough about the ins and outs of the Hancock case to make any judgement about suspension prior to now. I do, however, suggest, that no person is indispensable. Portsmouth City Council would not suffer unduly if Mike Hancock stepped down while the Council is determining matters. With regard to the Cabinet Membership of Mike Hancock, one get the feeling that undue weight of personal loyalty (itself no bad thing) may be clouding some people’s concepts of the good of the Party. Portsmouth Council is currently being run by a Lib Dem-Independent coalition. Are there appropriately-strong reasons for this in a council with an overwhelming Lib Dem majority? Does this make sense in the run up to local elections?

  • Very good piece by LDV’s own Stephen Tall.

    He ends it with something that most people would surely agree with ‘Talk about bringing the party into disrepute – that’s just what Portsmouth Lib Dems have done today. –

    I’ve disagreed with a lot on this site from Stephen & Caron but have to applaud them for their stance on Rennard & Hancock. Well done.

    Hopefully the full truth will be revealed and we will be able to understand why the Portsmouth Lib Dems have been so desperate to seem to protect Hancock, and just how much it has cost council tax payers to do so at a time of cuts to essential services.

  • One of the factors that should always be considered is whether everyone has a right to hold important positions in The Party. Doesnt The Party have the right to drop people simply because they are more trouble than they are worth ? Some people repeatedly attract bad publicity, isnt there a case for dropping them from simply for that, with no judgement on whos right or wrong ?

  • Chris Manners 25th Jan '14 - 1:42pm

    Disgraceful stuff.
    The idea you’re all right if you’re not prosecuted is ridiculous. So was going to court to keep the non-redacted version from “Annie”.
    The text messages alone are an atrocious error of judgement.
    Clegg has to call for a by-election and threaten to suspend the Lib Dem councillors.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Jan '14 - 1:54pm

    I think the Portsmouth Council have made a mistake here. The difference between this and Rennard is that a civil case is still ongoing, correct me if I’m wrong.

    The Lib Dems are beginning to look silly now, we can’t have one rule for mates and another for everyone else.

    Paul Barker, the problem with firing someone because they are “trouble” is that it makes us look like hypocrites because Lib Dems generally support employment rights.

    People wanting employment rights for everyone else except men accused of sex offences are not showing liberalism. We need to have consistency.

  • I think there needs to be some clearer thinking here from Stephen Tall whose article gives the impression that suspension is a punishment. No, its not and shouldnt be seen as such – a suspension as Tony Dawson rightly states is the opportunity to remove the person involved from the day to day role and then apply due process to determine (at whatever level of proof is required) guilt or not. That’s why employers should always suspend an accused employee with pay if they are accuused of a serious offence – to do it without pay is a sanction and implies guilt without process.

    The party really does need to get a grip here and start applying some consistency as it really does look like it is incapable of governing itself – and we all know what Jo Public thinks of parties that can’t do that.

  • Stephen Tall wrote on Wednesday —
    It’s only human that people will want to believe the best of their friends. But at the moment we look more like we want to conceal our family secrets than achieve justice. For a supposedly liberal party that’s really not a good look.

    I agree, which is why I have been trying to find out one of our”family secrets”; the secret membership of the Regional Parties Committee. Who are they? Why is there no mention of them onthe party website? Where did they meet on Monday? Who called for the meeting? Who chaired the meeting ?

    These are surely not unreasonable questions? So far there has been no answer — as Stephen Tall says, For a supposedly liberal party that’s really not a good look.

  • A quick question — when David Laws had to stand down as a government minister and leave the Cabinet, was he suspended from membership of the party?

    Was David Laws membership discussed by the Regional Parties Committe ?

  • Tony Dawson 25th Jan '14 - 5:52pm

    @John TTilley

    “I have been trying to find out one of our”family secrets”; the secret membership of the Regional Parties Committee. Who are they? Why is there no mention of them on the party website? Where did they meet on Monday? Who called for the meeting? Who chaired the meeting ?”

    Why stop there John? What was the ‘charge’ considered by the Committee? What evidence was presented to this Committee? Presented by whom? Who was notified of the nature of this evidence? Who was invited to comment on it? Who was invited to submit evidence? Who was provided with the reasoned ‘verdict’? 🙁 🙁 🙁

  • Paul in Twickenham 25th Jan '14 - 10:05pm

    @John Tilley and Tony Dawson – I think we all pretty much know what happened. The leadership of the party displayed exactly the same attitude as they have displayed throughout this whole sorry episode (and more generally too) : follow the path of least resistance today and worry about the consequences later.

    If Tony Dawson’s questions sound like the questions the narrator use to ask at the end of the old US sitcom “Soap” then maybe that’s appropriate: the answers to these and other questions will be found… after the next election.

  • And (most of all), did the party follow its own disciplinary flow chart? – freely available to view and a very sensible document, (it does mention the Regional Parties Committee but not its membership).

    I will leave others to judge whether its processes were followed.

  • Amalric, on another thread questioned whether there was actually something called the Regional Parties Committee (Regional Party’s? / Regional Parties’?). Amalric wondered whether it was one (or more) Regions’ Local Party Committee (S), which are normally the groups tasked within Regions to take up sticky issues too big for one local party to deal with, or maybe involving a dispute between local parties. Doubt was certainly cast on Tim Farron’s knowledge or understanding of party structure and function.

  • I don’t think there’s any doubt that these issues are damaging the electorate’s perception of Nick Clegg.

    A YouGov poll shows “Nick Clegg’s [net good/bad job rating] is minus 58 (down 7). 75% now think Clegg is doing a bad job as Lib Dem leader, just 17% a good job.”

  • @ peebee – Please post where the party’s disciplinary flow chart can be found I would love to see it. You didn’t say if it is a Federal or an English or other nation’s or a regional one.

    I would particularly like to see where the “Regional Parties Committee” fits into it as it is not mentioned in either the English constitution or the English Membership Rules.

  • Its being reported that Hancock has threatened to stand as an independent in 2015. If this is true surely its grounds for immeidiate expulsion ? One of the few things membership of a Party does commit one to is not standing against it. If it can be demonstrated that he said it he should be out.

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