Sexual harassment allegations swirl in British Parliament, media

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Sexual harassment allegations swirl in British Parliament, media
Britain's Defence Secretary Michael Fallon addresses members of the media during a joint UK/Poland press conference in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Oct. 12, 2017, in London.

LONDON -- The United Kingdom was reeling Thursday after one of Prime Minister Theresa May's most high-profile cabinet ministers stepped down apparently due to an alleged knee-grabbing incident that took place some 15 years ago. Defense Minister Sir Michael Fallon read a statement Wednesday evening in which he said he had "fallen below the high standards" of the armed forces.

Fallon's departure comes in the wake of more accusations of sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood's Harvey Weinstein in the U.K., where police are now looking at allegations from seven different women. British police say the alleged incidents took place beginning in the 1980s until 2015 both in London and outside of the U.K. Through his spokeswoman, Weinstein has denied all accusations of non-consensual sex.

But beyond Weinstein, accusations are mounting throughout the British entertainment and news industries -- and now in the political sphere, sending shockwaves through Westminster.

A so-called "dirty dossier," seen by ABC News partner Sky News, is making the rounds. The dossier is a spreadsheet containing unverified and uncensored accusations against 36 members of Parliament, including seven cabinet ministers, as well as eight former ministers for inappropriate, lurid behavior. It's not unlike a similar list making the rounds in New York City of American media personalities dubbed the "S----- Media Men," which includes unverified allegations of sexual harassment.

Near the top of the British list is Deputy Prime Minister Damian Green, who has been accused of inappropriate behavior by a woman 30 years his junior. Tory party activist Kate Maltby wrote in the Times of London that Green "fleetingly" touched her knee in a pub two years ago and last year, sent her a "suggestive" text message. According to her article in the paper, he wrote her: "Long time no see. But having admired you in a corset in my favorite tabloid, I felt impelled to ask if you are free for a drink anytime?" According to Sky News, Green denied all the accusations in a statement, calling them "untrue" and "deeply hurtful."

"It is absolutely and completely untrue that I've ever made any sexual advances on Ms. Maltby," he said. "... "This untrue allegation has come as a complete shock and is deeply hurtful, especially from someone I considered a personal friend."

The heavily redacted list seen by Sky News includes politicians from both sides, and the alleged behavior ranges from getting "handsy" in elevators and taxis, to lewd comments, to buying sex toys, to having sex with subordinates in party offices.

The prime minister has since launched an inquiry "to see whether those reported actions break the ministerial code."

But for former Defense Minister Fallon, the storm started publicly brewing when he apologized to British journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, the target of his alleged knee grab. He said he "overstepped the mark" with the commentator at a Conservative Party conference dinner in 2002.

"A number of allegations have surfaced about MPs in recent days, including some about my previous conduct," Fallon said Wednesday, reading from a statement in front of a Ministry of Defense sign. "Many of these have been false but I accept that in the past, I have fallen below the high standards that we require of the armed forces that I have the honor to represent."

"I have reflected on my position and I am therefore resigning as Defense Secretary," Fallon added.

But Hartley-Brewer said she was "incredibly shocked" by the resignation.

"If this is over 'kneegate'" she told Sky News, "Him touching my knee 15 years ago and me not having any issue with it today -- this is the most insane, absurd and ridiculous resignation of a cabinet minister ever."

Hartley-Brewer tweeted a picture of her knees, writing: "Both of my knees are still intact. Get a grip, people. Although not on my knee, obviously."

Later, she added on Twitter: "I doubt my knee was the reason."

Earlier on Wednesday, Labour Party MP Lisa Nandy said she had previously informed Prime Minister Theresa May of other allegations when May was home secretary.

"On three occasions, I asked her to act and on three occasions she did not," Nandy said Wednesday in the House of Commons.

For her part, May said Wednesday that she promised to "look back" at previous cases. And the British news and entertainment industries are following suit.

At the BBC, an investigation has reportedly been launched into a radio presenter accused of sexual harassment.

In an emailed statement, the BBC told ABC News: "We can't comment on individuals, but treat any allegations seriously and have processes in place for investigating them."

In the U.S., Netflix suspended its star project, "House of Cards," following accusations that actor Kevin Spacey sexually assaulted a child actor, then 14-year-old Anthony Rapp.

In the U.K., actors and former staff members are now accusing the Old Vic theater of actively ignoring Spacey's behavior during his 11-year stint as the theater's artistic director. The Guardian reported that many involved with the theater contacted the paper to say it was known that Spacey groped young men at the time.

Spacey is now taking some time to "seek evaluation and treatment," according to his spokesperson.

The theater responded in an emailed statement to ABC News: "During Kevin Spacey's tenure as artistic director, no complaints were made against him. No complaints have been made since he left."

The 200-year-old theater said it has since set up a confidential complaints process, adding in the statement: "We aim to foster a safe and supportive environment without prejudice, harassment or bullying of any sort, at any level."

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