MP Hancock effectively de-selected

Halstead Gazette: Mike Hancock has maintained a role with Portsmouth City Council Mike Hancock has maintained a role with Portsmouth City Council

Mike Hancock has been effectively de-selected as an MP by his local Liberal Democrat group as they announce they are in the process of selecting a candidate for the next general election.

The move comes after the Portsmouth South MP was suspended from the party last week after the leaking of a QC's report into allegations - which he denies - of inappropriate behaviour towards a constituent with mental health issues.

Mr Hancock, who is a cabinet member for Portsmouth City Council, had already resigned the parliamentary party whip last year, but was still sitting as a Lib Dem local councillor until the local group ruled that his suspension meant it must strip him of the party banner.

Simon Dodd, chairman of Portsmouth Liberal Democrats, has said that although the local party believed Mr Hancock had the right to respond to the allegations against him, they were still considering his future.

He said: " The Executive has clearly reconfirmed its belief in natural justice and the right of Mike Hancock to fully respond in due course to the allegations made against him. We reiterate our belief that it is for the court to reach its conclusions based on all the evidence.

"The Executive is continuing the process of selecting parliamentary candidates for Portsmouth North and Portsmouth South constituencies to stand at the general election in May 2015 and will be continuing our efforts to contest all wards in the city in the upcoming elections in May 2014."

Mr Hancock told The News: "I'll make the decision whether I stand as an MP or not when I decide, not when people are trying to make a decision when they know it will be impossible for me to be involved in it.

"I don't think that it's a very fair thing to do. I'd have thought they at least owed me that to wait for the civil case."

On Friday, the local group voted to allow Mr Hancock to keep his cabinet seat as an independent councillor. Although it has been reported that the vote was a 10-10 split with Mr Hancock only keeping his position, responsible for planning, regeneration and economic development, because the chairman of the meeting abstained.

The outcome has led fellow-Lib Dem, Cllr Eleanor Scott, to resign from her position as cabinet member for environment and community safety.

She said: " I am of the opinion that it was not a good decision to allow Mike Hancock to remain a member of the cabinet, given the circumstances that now prevail. I'm entitled to my opinion and to act according to my views.

"I do however remain a Liberal Democrat Party member, and committed to being a councillor.

"I hope that others involved in the group's decision on Friday will reflect on their positions, and do the right thing.

"We need to run a city, not a game show.

"I also confirm that I have previously raised concerns with Liberal Democrat Party headquarters in London, in June 2013, about the culture within the Portsmouth Lib Dem group. I trust that they will concede that they need to give me, and others here, support to clean out the Augean stables. There are many good people involved with the Lib Dems in Portsmouth and they deserve a chance now to shine."

Following the decision to allow Mr Hancock to keep his position as cabinet member for planning, regeneration and economic development, the local Lib Dem group said in a statement: "Councillor Mike Hancock no longer remains a member of the Portsmouth City Council Liberal Democrat Group because, having had his membership suspended by the party at national level, it is not possible for him to remain a member of the city council group until the suspension is lifted.

"The group acknowledges that the suspension has been imposed before the issue to which suspension relates has been properly and fairly determined through due process in the courts.

"The group decided that the Independent Councillor Mike Hancock should retain his seat on the cabinet of the city council. This was decided because Councillor Hancock is best placed to fulfil the role of cabinet member for planning, regeneration and economic development."

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg insisted last week he had taken immediate action after learning of "appalling" allegations levelled against the MP as he came in for criticism for failing to do anything in the three years after the party was notified of the complaints.

The Deputy Prime Minister, who is also facing criticism over the handling of separate sexual harassment allegations against Lord Rennard, said he had acted last year as soon as he heard that a civil case was being brought against his MP.

After a Hampshire police investigation concluded there was no case to answer, Portsmouth City Council launched an inquiry into whether Mr Hancock had breached the council's code of conduct, but that has now been put on hold pending the outcome of the civil court action.

The report, carried out by Nigel Pascoe QC for the council, found "compelling" evidence of "serious and unwelcome sexual behaviour" towards a vulnerable woman constituent. She suffered a mental health disorder and had been sexually abused as a child.

The alleged victim won a ruling at the High Court on Friday to allow her full disclosure of the report for a forthcoming civil court action against Mr Hancock - a move that was opposed by Portsmouth City Council.

The woman who made the allegations about Mr Hancock wrote to complain about his behaviour in March 2011, but the letter apparently got lost in the system.

Mr Clegg has insisted he was only made aware of specific allegations against the MP in early 2013 and took immediate action.

The Guido Fawkes' Blog website posted an audio clip which it claimed was a secret recording of the woman phoning Number 10 about the letter.

In the recording the woman is told that the civil servants in the communications office would not be able to respond, but a message about her call would be passed on to the political office.

The Lib Dems said there had been a "breakdown" in the system for passing letters from Whitehall to the party's HQ.

A Lib Dem spokesman said: "The party has no record of receiving the complainant's letter of March 2011.

"There seems to have been a breakdown in the system of transferring correspondence from the Government to the party but it is not clear where or how.

"When the party received a copy of the same letter in October 2011, it was responded to.

"The system for logging and tracking the large amount of correspondence received in different places was changed and improved towards the end of 2011."

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