ROSS Thomson, the former Scottish Conservative MP, is to consult his lawyers after an independent panel cleared him of an allegation of sexual misconduct made by a former Scottish Labour MP and now a candidate for the party at the Holyrood election.
The ruling is the first by the Independent Expert Panel[IEP], set up to investigate claims of inappropriate behaviour by MPs.
The new body was created last June to avoid any controversy over MPs judging allegations against their own colleagues and so the perception they may have acted more or less favourably towards them.
The allegation of sexual misconduct against Mr Thomson, who was the Tory MP for Aberdeen South from 2017 to 2019 and helped run Boris Johnson’s successful campaign for the party leadership, has already been considered by two previous inquiries, including one last October by Westminster’s Commissioner for Standards, which dismissed them.
However, the complainant or “Reporter”, Paul Sweeney, the former Labour MP for Glasgow North East, appealed and this was considered by three members of the eight-strong IEP.
The allegation goes back to October 2018 when it was claimed by Mr Sweeney that while in the Strangers’ Bar in the House of Commons Mr Thomson had “invaded his personal space, engaged in personal touching for some minutes and stroked him”.
The Labour politician also claimed the Tory MP had “repeatedly groped his backside and genitals and attempted to insert his hand down the Reporter’s trousers”.
The first investigation upheld the former claim but dismissed the latter, concluding the complainant had made it “maliciously”.
Last year, the Commissioner for Standards agreed with the initial inquiry that the groping allegations had not been proved but also decided Mr Sweeney’s claims were not “malicious”.
The IEP report said she accepted Mr Thomson had leaned on Mr Sweeney and “invaded his personal space by repeatedly putting his arms around him (but not that he had stroked him) but concluded that these actions were not proved to be of a ‘sexual nature’ and did not therefore breach the Sexual Misconduct Policy. The outcome was that all complaints of sexual misconduct were not upheld.”
Mr Thomson, 33, admitted he had been drunk in the Commons bar but denied the allegations made against him.
After the Commissioner’s ruling, Mr Sweeney, 32, referred the matter to the IEP, arguing the initial investigations had been “unfair and inadequate”.
However, in its report, the IEP dismissed the appeal, saying the second probe had been “particularly thorough” and covered not only evidence from the first one but also more interviews with the two parties and 19 witness statements.
A claim that investigators failed to speak to a “key material witness” was also dismissed because the person “did no more than receive a hearsay account from an eyewitness”.
The IEP said the investigator and Commissioner had been looking for evidence, which would lend credence to Mr Sweeney’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.”
In its conclusion the IEP said it had considered each of Mr Sweeney’s five grounds of appeal “with some care” but believed there was no merit in any of them. “We, therefore, do not accept that there are any valid grounds for an appeal. For that reason, it is our decision that this appeal by the Reporter must be dismissed.”
The allegations led to Mr Thomson abandoning his candidature at the 2019 General Election.
Welcoming the IEP’s decision, the former MP said: “I find it astonishing 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 this smear campaign against me. I intend to start restart legal discussions now that the appeal process has concluded.”
A spokesman for Mr Sweeney said: “We note the IEP 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.”