A former MP bullied a member of parliamentary staff in a “hostile, sustained, (and) harmful” way, a report has found.
An independent panel said former Labour MP for Leicester East MP Keith Vaz bullied and harassed Jenny McCollough, who has waived her right to anonymity, to such an extent that she left her career in the House of Commons.
And the panel said Mr Vaz should be “ashamed” of his behaviour as it ruled he should never again be allowed to hold a parliamentary pass.
Mr Vaz had likened Ms McCollough to a prostitute, told her she could not do her job because she was not a mother, and threatened to take photographs of her drinking alcohol to show to her boss.
Sir Stephen Irwin, chair of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP), which decided on the sanctions to be levelled against Mr Vaz, said his actions had a “real and enduring psychological impact”.
The IEP’s report, released on Thursday, came after the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards concluded that Mr Vaz had, on several occasions between July 2007 and October 2008, breached the bullying and harassment policy in his interactions with Ms McCollough, who worked as the second clerk on the Commons committee for which Mr Vaz was chairman.
The panel did not dispute he was in ill health. But his “ongoing public media and political activity” including regularly presenting a radio programme, writing columns for the newspaper Asian Voice, and issuing other comments and statements meant they did not believe he had been unable to engage with the process.
The report detailed how Mr Vaz subjected Ms McCollough, who worked for the Home Affairs Select Committee, to “sustained and unpleasant bullying” from 2007 to 2010.
This included inappropriate anger, loud and aggressive speech, and demeaning her in front of others.
The report also gave specific examples inappropriate instructions, such as “requiring her to perform like a ‘tour guide’ in front of the visiting party in a bus in Washington”, forcing her to have breakfast with him on trips away, and telling her to take photographs of landmarks for his private use.
On the trip to Washington in 2007, the report said Ms McCollough – who is from Northern Ireland – was “disparaged” in front of another MP after Mr Vaz had assumed she was Catholic and “remarked that that member would have ‘locked up’ the complainant”.
Mr Vaz then threatened to take photos of her drinking alcohol on the trip and show them to her manager.
The report said there was evidence the photos were taken and “the implication of the threat was that she was liable to drink to excess so as to affect her performance”.
The panel found “there was no substance to this” and deemed it a “psychological threat”.
On the same trip he accused her of not being able to support the committee because she “wasn’t a mother” and forced her to reveal her age in order to undermine her performance.
She left the House of Commons in 2011 due to the bullying.
The IEP found there was “significant misconduct” and dismissed suggestions that Mr Vaz could not have engaged with the investigation, claiming that his medical adviser had “gone far beyond the proper role of an independent expert” and instead was engaged in “an exercise in advocacy”.
Sir Stephen said Mr Vaz “should be ashamed of his behaviour”.
Dave Penman, General Secretary of the FDA union, which represents parliamentary staff, said Ms McCollough had “not only shone a light on reprehensible conduct and behaviour of a senior member of Parliament, but also the inability of both Parliament and political parties to address these issues in the past”.
He said: “The report could not paint a clearer picture of sustained, inappropriate conduct that not only caused harm to a committed public servant, but caused her to leave the service. This conduct would have been visible to fellow MPs, whips and senior managers in parliament.
“The unwillingness of Parliament to address these issues before now should weigh heavy on all who had the opportunity and power to address them at the time. It’s clear that an independent process was – and remains – necessary to ensure this kind of behaviour does not go unchallenged.”