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Keith Vaz engaged in ‘sustained and unpleasant bullying’, report finds

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA</span>
Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Keith Vaz, the former Labour minister, engaged in “sustained and unpleasant bullying” towards a parliamentary member of staff, an official report has concluded.

The ex-MP for Leicester East was reprimanded over his conduct towards a clerk on the home affairs committee, of which he was chair for nine years.

In a report released on Thursday the independent expert panel (IEP) recommended he never be given a pass for the parliamentary estate, usually given to ex-parliamentarians, because of his behaviour.

The panel chair, Sir Stephen Irwin, said Vaz was guilty of “sustained and unpleasant bullying, with a real and enduring psychological impact” that ended the woman’s career.

“[Vaz’s] conduct to the complainant was hostile, sustained, harmful and unworthy of a member of parliament. He should be ashamed of his behaviour,” he said.

The 64-year-old former Europe minister, who was in the Commons for more than 30 years, declined to cooperate with the investigation, claiming he was too ill.

The findings represent another low point for Vaz, who was once a powerful figure in the Labour party under Tony Blair’s leadership and was well connected to Asian donors to the party.

They could also end his ambitions to return to the party as an MP. The Labour MP who succeeded him in Leicester East, Claudia Webbe, is due to face trial for harassment later this month – a charge she vehemently denies.

Vaz stood down from parliament at the 2019 election, having been handed a six-month suspension from the Commons after he was caught offering to buy class A drugs for male sex workers.

The Sunday Mirror reported in September 2016 that Vaz, posing as an industrial washing machine salesman called Jim, invited the sex workers into his flat and offered to pay for cocaine for another man to use.

The former Europe minister was found by the House of Commons standards committee previously to have committed a “very serious breach” of code of conduct for MPs.

Thursday’s report said the complainant worked with him on the committee in 2007-08 and complained in 2019. The complaints related to bulling in the autumn of 2007 and the winter of 2010, when she worked in another part of parliament.

The investigation found six different periods of bulling that worked to “rob her of confidence in her judgment and abilities, so that ultimately she felt compelled to leave her work in the House of Commons in 2011”.

Vaz was found to have mocked her Northern Irish heritage on a trip to the US, and took other staff on a visit to Russia because she was “not competent”.

The report said he also threatened to show pictures of her drinking on the Russia trip to her manager, to “suggest she was liable to drink to excess so as to affect her performance”. The report said there was “no substance” to this claim.

On another occasion he criticised her ability to work effectively for the committee because she “wasn’t a mother”. On another, he told her she reminded him of a prostitute.

Summarising their findings the committee said: ‘We consider that this misconduct represented sustained and unpleasant bullying, with a real and enduring psychological impact. It was hostile and harmful behaviour.”

A sub-panel of the independent expert panel was appointed to determine the sanction to be imposed.

Vaz was said to have not communicated with the sub-panel in “any way” as it considered claims from Vaz’s medical adviser that he was too ill to participate in its proceedings.

A review was carried out into the former MP’s ongoing public media and political activity.

The sub-panel found that “there was no good basis” for concluding that those health problems precluded him from engagement.

The sub-panel concluded that, if Vaz currently held a Commons pass as a former MP it would have been appropriate to remove it.

It added that his eligibility to hold a former member’s pass should never be restored.

Vaz did not respond to a request for a comment.

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