An independent panel has upheld a decision to clear gay ex-Tory MP Ross Thomson of sexual harassment towards a man in a House of Commons bar.
Thomson was elected as MP for Aberdeen South in 2017, but quit at the 2019 election after it emerged that he had been accused of groping another MP in a bar inside parliament.
An initial investigation by parliament’s standards commissioner found that Thomson had invaded the complainant’s personal space but had not acted in breach of the sexual misconduct policy for MPs.
Following an appeal, the decision was referred to parliament’s independent expert panel – the first time the body, established in 2020 to hear appeals over sexual harassment and bullying, has been called upon to meet.
Independent panel upholds findings of parliament’s sexual harassment investigation
In its ruling on Tuesday (23 February), the panel upheld the conclusions of the standards commissioner, finding that investigation of the matter had been “particularly thorough”.
It also upheld the original decision to disregard some of the allegations that were contradicted by other witnesses present during the incident.
The panel said: “Certain allegations were made which one might have expected in the context to have been seen or witnessed by one or more others present, particularly when… they were in close proximity to the reporter.
“An absence of supporting evidence, as in this case where close-by witnesses would have found it hard to miss some of the serious groping alleged… may become telling.
“In this case, the investigator and commissioner were looking for evidence which would lend credence to the reporter’s account on the serious groping allegation.
“What they found was not just an absence of evidence to that effect, but contrary evidence from witnesses who were present.”
Sir Stephen Irwin, chair of the Independent Expert Panel, said: “The panel made the decision in this first case guided by the principles of natural justice, fairness for all parties, transparency and proportionality, and will treat all further cases with the same regard and diligence.
“We understand the seriousness of, and the harm caused by, bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. We are rigorously independent, impartial and objective, acting without any political input or influence.”
Ross Thomson says his name has been cleared
Though not named in the report, Labour MP Paul Sweeney previously waived his anonymity relating to the incident to publicly level the allegations against Thomson.
In a statement, Thomson said: “I welcome the decision of the independent expert panel to reject Paul Sweeney’s appeal.
“This is the second time his false and malicious allegations have been formally dismissed.
“I find it astonishing that Mr Sweeney had the brass neck to appeal the commissioner’s original decision which was based on extensive evidence, including witness statements and CCTV footage, contradicting his story.”
He added: “I hope today’s decision finally marks the end of the smear campaign against me. I intend to restart legal discussions now that the appeal process has concluded.”
A spokesperson for Sweeney said: “We note that the independent expert panel upheld the complaint that Mr Thomson invaded the reporter’s personal space without invitation, had leaned on him, repeatedly put his arms around him, and engaged in inappropriate and unwelcome personal touching for some minutes.
“We also note the counter-allegation that the reporter’s complaint was made maliciously was thrown out by the parliamentary commissioner for standards.
“We are considering the implications of the decision in full and have no further comment at this time.”