Labour plunged into sexual harassment row after top aide allegedly played down allegations

Posted On: 
9th June 2019

Labour have been plunged into another row over its handling of harassment after a top aide allegedly played down allegations of sexual misconduct.

Karie Murphy allegedly dismissed a formal probe into Peter Willsman's behaviour
Credit: 
PA

Jeremy Corbyn’s chief of staff has come under fire after leaked emails appear to show her refusing to launch a formal probe into senior activist Pete Willsman following complaints from a young female staffer.

Mr Willsman, a close personal friend of Mr Corbyn and member of the party’s ruling executive committee, was suspended from the party last month after he was recorded saying the Israeli embassy had “whipped up” the anti-semitism scandal which has engulfed the party.

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But according to the Sunday Times, Mr Willsman was accused by a female staff member in 2017 of asking her where she lived, sending her text messages saying he was in his pyjamas and “refusing” to leave her alone.

Emails leaked to the paper show Ms Murphy suggested someone “have a word” with Mr Willsman rather than refer him to the party’s official complaints procedure.

In the internal email chain, she wrote: “I am happy to discuss this matter with him directly if appropriate. This is not a matter to be managed under the sexual harassment policy.”

She added that the allegations made in the formal complaint to the party amounted to “minor references to him being over familiar” and constituted “unprofessional behaviour”.

“If we start cataloguing the behaviour of NEC members in the last two years I am sure we would have a substantial list of unprofessional behaviour”, she wrote.

“I am sure someone having a word with PW would easily correct this. This is not in my view a complaint of sexual harassment.”

But the allegations have drawn fury from Labour MP Jess Phillips, who said the complaints “clearly” warranted a formal investigation.

She said: “This behaviour clearly falls under the definition of sexual harassment. Is the policy in the party’s HR that what we do is ‘have a word’, or is there a formal process in place? Why would any women come forward if there is no process being followed?"

A Labour source told the paper Ms Murphy made it clear to Mr Willsman that is conduct “wasn’t acceptable” but it was for the party’s executive committee to decide the next steps.

The row comes amid growing concern over how the leader’s office handles complaints made against close allies of Mr Corbyn.

Earlier this month, over one hundred current and former Labour staff members wrote to Mr Corbyn urging him to take action after “extremely concerning” allegations were made against one his senior aides, David Prescott.

According to the Sunday Times, a young Labour MP told Mr Corbyn and Ms Murphy about “unwarranted sexual advances” from Mr Prescott, but a move to suspend him from the party was blocked by Ms Murphy because the MP failed to submit a written complaint.

Mr Prescott denies the allegations.

A Labour spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints of sexual harassment extremely seriously. In this case no formal complaint was received to investigate.”