Nick Clegg accused of 'turning a blind eye' to MP's inappropriate conduct

Nick Clegg at Operation Green

A woman who has been given an apology from the MP Mike Hancock for inappropriate sexual advances has condemned Nick Clegg for ignoring her claims for more than four years.

"Annie" – not her real name – told the Guardian that the Liberal Democrat leader "turned a blind eye" after she called his office asking the Lib Dems to investigate her claims that Hancock, then a Lib Dem MP, had assaulted and seduced her. She claims that Hancock's advances did not stop after she told him she had mental health problems, was self-harming and had been sexually assaulted as a child.

Hancock has previously denied claims that he conducted an inappropriate sexual relationship with the vulnerable constituent, but on Wednesday was forced to admit that he had made her feel "degraded" and "uncomfortable".

In a statement released as part of a high court settlement, the MP for Portsmouth South, who was elected as a Lib Dem, said he had "crossed the line" when he had gone to the woman's home on several occasions and said his conduct was "inappropriate" and "unprofessional" and apologised unreservedly for any distress.

It follows a five year struggle by Annie to obtain an apology in the face of persistent denials of misconduct by the 68-year-old MP. She accused him of sexually harassing her after she approached him for help with noisy neighbours.

She told the Guardian hours after the apology was issued: "Clegg has been negligent, he has put me through hell. I complained to Clegg's office in March 2011, but it has taken four years to deal with Hancock. There is supposed to be system in place in the party to deal with MPs but they don't seem to use it," she said.

Annie's claim was prolonged, she said, because there is no proper system to discipline MPs accused of sexually inapproriate sexual behaviour.

The parliamentary commissioner for standards office has the means to examine allegations of financial wrongdoing, but cannot investigate claims that an MP has abused their position in other ways.

"There should be a new rule, to stop the abuse of constituents. Closure takes more than an apology. I feel like I've been abandoned by all of the agencies - the police, the social services and local councillors and even the parliamentary authorities," she said.

The end of the case will force the Lib Dems to consider whether to readmit Hancock to the party. The party's whip was supended earlier this year after Annie issued a writ.

The statement read out in the High Court said that the parties have confidentially settled a claim for damages, just days before the case was due to be heard.

Hancock's apology does not admit sexually assaulting 'Annie', as she has previously claimed, but does admit serious misconduct.

"Over several months I came to your home on several occasions, sometimes unannounced, and conducted a friendship with you that was inappropriate and unprofessional. I understand that you felt degraded. I did not treat you with sufficient respect. I made you feel deeply uncomfortable and discriminated against," he said.

"As a political representative, there is a significant power differential with any constituent seeking help and particularly with your vulnerablity of which I was aware.

"You had a right to trust me. Everyone should feel safe and should be able to have confidence in their political representatives and I am sorry I made you feel otherwise," he added.

Hancock goes on to distance himself from comments from Lib Dem councillors which accused 'Annie' of suing the MP with the motivation of money.

"I accept that you did not bring the claim for financial gain and any statement sto the contrary were wrong," it reads. Harriet Wistrich, solicitor for 'Annie', who has a son, said her client had attempted to complain through the police, the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards as well as the Liberal Democrat party and Portsmouth city council - "but has been blocked from achieving a remedy at each stage".

The case concerned a seven-month period from November 2009 after the alleged victim approached Hancock for help. The woman, who was then 35, claimed the MP placed his hand on her breast, exposed himself and kissed her on many occasions without consent.

Hancock also took her and her son to parliament for dinner, she said, bought her a teddy bear that he named Mike and sent her dozens of texts which said: "Please give me a chance you never know my princess xxx", "… you are special and sexy to me xxx" and "just got here and in bed alone my love xxx".

Hancock remains a patient in the Priory hospital in Southampton, the statement said, but a psychiatric report was obtained by the court confirming that he had "full capacity" to make the statement.

According to paragraph 16 of the MPs' code of conduct, members should never undertake any action which would cause significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons. But under rule 17, it says that "the Commissioner [for standards] may not investigate a specific matter under paragraph 16 which relates only to the conduct of a Member in their private and personal lives."

Nick Clegg's party has recently been at the centre of other claims that it has failed to investigate sexual harassment allegations. Over the past year, party officials have been accused of ignoring claims against Lord Rennard, the former election guru who maintains his innocence against claims that he groped female Lib Dem activists; and that the party failed to investigate allegations asgainst the late MP Cyril Smith who has since been named by police as a paedophile.

A Liberal Democrat spokesman said a disciplinary investigation into Hancock, which was put on hold pending the outcome of the civil case, would now be re-started.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rajeev Syal, for The Guardian on Wednesday 18th June 2014 19.45 Europe/London

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