Sexual assault complainants should have the “confidence” to contact the police or the parliamentary authorities, Therese Coffey has urged in the wake of reports about Chris Pincher’s alleged misconduct.
Mr Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip on Thursday and was suspended from the Conservative Party a day later after claims he drunkenly groped two men at an event.
Ms Coffey, the work and pensions minister, insisted Downing Street responded “decisively” amid criticism Boris Johnson had been too slow to act.
After a formal complaint, the allegations about Mr Pincher are being investigated by the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS). This was set up in 2018 to investigate bullying and harassment claims following the “Pestminster” scandal and the MeToo movement.
Asked about the reluctance of some victims to make complaints, Ms Coffey said: “People should have the confidence to come forward whether they want to do that through the ICGS, which has been set out deliberately to take this approach.
“I think it’s important that people should have the confidence to follow the procedures that have been put in place deliberately because of situations like this. I wish people would go to the police more with allegations if they feel a crime has been committed.
“I’m very much in favour of dealing with the situations firmly and in Chris Pincher’s situation that is what has happened. We need to continue to try and encourage people to come forward … Nobody in that regard should be feeling they’ve got some protection, they haven’t.”
Mr Johnson was this weekend accused of turning a blind eye to warnings about Mr Pincher on making him deputy chief whip in a Government reshuffle in February.
‘I don’t believe he was aware’
But Ms Coffey said the Prime Minister had appointed him to the whips’ office “in good faith”, adding: “I’m not aware that he was made aware of, like, specific claims about any particular incidents or anything like that, no, I don’t believe he was aware. I’m not privy to the exact conversations that went on.
“I have been told the PM was not made aware of specific claims and indeed there’s an aspect of a vetting process that every ministerial appointment goes through but ultimately it’s a decision for the Prime Minister and I believe he made that in good faith.”
While government sources told The Telegraph widespread “rumours” existed concerning Mr Pincher’s alleged misconduct, Ms Coffey said she had not heard any allegations about him and was not “part of the general chatter [or] rumour mill discussions”.
She rejected suggestions closing the bars in Parliament would help the wider “culture” of Westminster and pointed to reforms in recent years aimed at ensuring the safety and wellbeing of those working on the estate.
In a letter to Mr Johnson on Thursday night, Mr Pincher said: “I’ve embarrassed myself and other people which is the last thing I want to do and for that, I apologise to you and to those concerned.”
On Saturday, he said in a statement: “I respect the Prime Minister’s decision to suspend the whip whilst an inquiry is underway, and I will cooperate fully with it. I drank far too much, embarrassing myself and others.
“As I told the Prime Minister, I drank far too much on Wednesday night, embarrassing myself and others and I am truly sorry for the upset I caused. The stresses of the last few days, coming on top of those over the last several months, have made me accept that I will benefit from professional medical support.”