Miles Briggs answers sexual harassment charge
Miles Briggs, Tory (list) MSP says he has been through a “living hell” after being cleared of sexual harassment following a party disciplinary hearing into the claims. He insisted that the accusations made by a female worker with another party were “completely false.”
But the woman behind the claims says she was “sad and angry” at the way the Tories handled the claims and suggested the outcome of the hearing had been decided beforehand.
Sandy Brindley, from Rape Crisis Scotland, who has been representing the woman, slammed the Tories’ handling of the complaint. She said:
“This is why women are reluctant to come forward with sexual harassment complaints. 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.”
Campaign groups warned that the Conservatives’ procedure was “inappropriate” and will deter women coming forward with harassment claims.
The four-person panel who heard the complaints 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 Briggs would be able to “cross examine” the complainants version of events, although the Tories agreed to drop this.
But although this line of questioning had been dropped, the complainant still faced the prospect of cross-examination from the chair of the committee who would put Briggs’ questions to her.
A written statement was instead provided by the complainant along with written statement from two persons backing her version of events. Briggs gave oral evidence together with a supporter.
The “adversarial” approach of the panel came under fire from Rape Crisis Scotland who said it was “not appropriate” for a case of this nature.
Setting the Scene
Briggs admitted that at a flat party in Edinburgh he had got embroiled in a heated argument with the complainant (in the course of which he called her a “crazy bitch,”) about the Tory so-called “rape clause” policy of cutting off benefits to mothers unless they proved conception of a third child occurred through rape.
Admitting he had been drinking but was not intoxicated he said he had left the party 20 minutes after arrival since he was catching a flight to London the next morning at 6:30am
He insisted his behaviour on the night did not “fall short” of that expected of an MSP.
In written submissions, two witnesses backed the complainant and said Briggs had, “wrapped himself around her” and was “playing with her hair” and that she she had looked extremely uncomfortable.
Briggs supplied written statements from individuals rebutting the claims.
His Twitter apology to the complainant. But he told the panel he was fully “compos mentis”
Miles Briggs complainant sad and angry at process and outcome
In an interview shortly after the complainant said she was appalled that Mr Briggs could be exonerated without evidence from her and two witnesses to the alleged harassment being heard.
The three had refused to appear before the committee on the advice of Rape Crisis Scotland on the grounds that the process was “flawed”.
In particular, she objected to the “adversarial” approach under which herself and her witnesses were to undergo “cross-examination”.
Rape Crisis Scotland had called for the process to be more of a fact-finding exercise similar to that now adopted by the Scottish Parliament, but says the Scottish Conservatives refused to back down.
The complainant said she agonized over whether or not to report the incident, but had been losing sleep.
When she first wrote to Ruth Davidson, she says her main priority was to avoid publicity.
She claims before she sent the letter, she met party director Lord Mark McInnes to seek reassurance, and was told she would be protected and Mr Briggs would be suspended pending a hearing. This never happened.
Later she says it became clear the disciplinary committee was not treating the complaint with sufficient rigour. It took more than a month to get a response from Briggs.
“No-one asked us to provide witness statements – Rape Crisis Scotland had to say to them, don’t you want them? And no-one kept in touch about the progress of the case – we heard very little until a week and a half ago when Rape Crisis Scotland was told I would have to submit to direct questioning by Miles.”
After chief executive Sandy Brindley intervened, the party agreed to ask Briggs if he would be willing to leave the room and allow the complainant to be questioned by the chairman. He agreed, but all other witnesses were expected to give their evidence in his presence.
The Complainant said she was not comfortable being questioned on the basis of Briggs’ statement which she had not seen.
Rape Crisis Scotland sought clarification on the gender composition of the committee and reassurance that its members had undergone sexual harassment training. It says it got neither and advised the complainant and her witnesses not to attend.
Summarizing the complainant said:
“I am gutted that Miles has been found to have done nothing wrong. I am sad and angry that the process was so terrible that it felt as though this end result was written from very early on. My question is how is anyone on that committee is qualified to judge my credibility, it’s not a court. These last few days have been terrible. If this had been dealt with well, I would not have gone to the press.” (extracts from The Scotsman)