A Conservative MSP says he has been through a “living hell” after being cleared of sexual harassment following a party disciplinary hearing into the claims.
Miles Briggs insisted that the accusations made by a female worker with another party were “completely false.”
This is why women are reluctant to come forward with sexual harassment complaints,SANDY BRINDLEY Rape Crisis Scotland
But the woman behind the claims says she is “sad and angry” at the way the Tories handled the claims and suggested the outcome of the two-hour hearing yesterday was a foregone conclusion.
A number of witness testimonies considered by a disciplinary panel yesterday claimed the MSP and complainer had been arguing about the so-called “rape clause” on the night of the event. The woman claimed Mr Briggs had “draped himself over her” and used sexual language.
Campaign groups warned that the Conservatives’ procedure was “inappropriate” and will deter women coming forward with harassment claims.
Sandy Brindley from Rape Crisis Scotland, who has been representing the woman, slammed the Tories’ handling of the complaint,
“This is why women are reluctant to come forward with sexual harassment complaints,” she said. “In our view the Scottish Conservatives need to urgently change their approach to investigating sexual harassment complaints.
“This is not about party politics, it’s about ensuring that anyone experiencing sexual harassment feels able to come forward and expect fair treatment if they do.”
The claims centre on a series of exchanges between Mr Briggs and the woman which started at a Scottish Parliament/French Rugby team reception at the French Consulate in Edinburgh on 10 February and continued at a flat party later that night.
The woman formally lodged a complaint with the Conservatives in July. Following a hearing in front of a four-person panel yesterday, which saw Mr Briggs’ version of events backed by some SNP researchers, he was cleared of wrongdoing.
The Lothians MSP said afterwards: “The last two months have been a living hell for me and my family as I have had to face these false allegations of sexual harassment made against me.
“Damage has clearly been done to my character, especially among those who don’t know me, and I hope I have the chance to address that in the coming weeks and months.”
He said that he had got into an argument with the woman at a flat party in Edinburgh and left 20 minutes after arriving.
Although the MSP admitted he had been drinking, he said he was catching a flight to London the next morning at 6:30am and was not intoxicated. Mr Briggs insisted that his behaviour on the night did not “fall short” of that expected of an MSP. However, the panel heard that he had called the woman a “crazy bitch” as they argued, which he later apologised for.
Eight other witnesses backed Mr Briggs’ version of events, with most claiming they saw the MSP and the complainer arguing about the Conservatives’ so-called “rape clause ” policy of cutting off benefits to mothers unless they show conception of a third child occurred through rape.
They also say the woman behaved in an “antagonistic and heated” manner towards Mr Briggs during the evening.
“The allegations are completely false,” Mr Briggs said.
“I was able to supply the party’s disciplinary committee with several witness statements from individuals who were with me the entire evening and which not only challenged but contradicted these allegations and events that evening.
“I am especially grateful to the SNP parliamentary researchers who were among those who supported my case.”
The woman making the complaints did not appear before the disciplinary panel yesterday, amid concerns about the process used by the Conservatives.
Two other witnesses, in written submissions, backed her claims and said Mr Briggs “wrapped himself around her” and was playing with her hair and that the complainer looked uncomfortable.
She said: “I’m gutted that Miles has been found to have done nothing wrong.”
“I’m sad and angry that the process was so terrible that it felt as though this end result was written from very early on. I want to focus on changing the process so anyone in future can have confidence that someone’s power will not protect them and that they will be treated better than I have been.”
The four-person panel who heard the complaints yesterday comprised two men and two women and was chaired by advocate Leonard Wallace. Mary Bain, Gavin Scott and councillor Shona Haslam also sat on the panel.
It had initially been proposed that Mr Briggs would be able to “cross examine” her version of events, although the Tories agreed to drop this.
Although this was dropped, she may still have faced cross-examination from the chair of the committee putting Mr Briggs’ questions to her.
Such an “adversarial” approach came under fire from Rape Crisis Scotland who say it was “not appropriate” for a case of this nature.
A written statement was instead provided by the complainers along with written statement from two others backing her version of events. Mr Briggs did give evidence along with a staffer from another Holyrood party, believed to be the SNP, who backed his version. A further seven written statements also endorsed Mr Briggs’ position.
Sandy Brindley from Rape Crisis Scotland slammed the Tories handling of the complaint,
“This is why women are reluctant to come forward with sexual harassment complaints,” she said.
“In our view the Scottish Conservatives need to urgently change their approach to investigating sexual harassment complaints.
“This is not about party politics, it’s about ensuring that anyone experiencing sexual harassment feels about to come forward and expect fair treatment if they do.”