Lord Lester offered to make a woman a baroness if she slept with him, groped her in a car and chased her around a kitchen, according to claims in a report on his conduct.
Sexual harassment allegations against the ex-Lib Dem peer were aired in full for the first time today after a standards investigation lasting almost a year.
The ex-Lib Dem QC, a racial and sexual equality campaigner, categorically denies all allegations of inappropriate behaviour and calls the claims a “pack of lies”.
The report details in full the woman’s claims, including that she cowered in a bedroom with a chair propped behind the door for fear he would try to enter her room in the night.
Here is a brief summary of the events as described in the woman’s witness statement to the inquiry.
When did this happen and how many people were involved?
One woman made a complaint against Lord Lester about a series of alleged incidents more than a decade ago.
The woman, who is now middle-aged, knew Lord Lester professionally. She has been kept anonymous.
She made her complaint in November 2017, at the height of the MeToo movement.
She said she did not complain sooner because she feared she would not be believed, and it would distract from her work.
‘He missed the gearstick and groped my thigh’
The woman claims she attended a meeting in the House of Lords and missed her train home.
“Lord Lester suggested that I stay at his home in London,” she said in her witness statement.
“I initially said no as I did not wish to impose on his hospitality, but he insisted and said he would call his wife.”
The woman went on: “In the car on the way to his house, he kept repeatedly missing the gearstick with his hand and instead very firmly placed his hand on my right thigh.
“The first time it happened I thought it must’ve been an accident, but when it continued I realised it was not.
“I removed his hand and asked him to stop.
“He just smiled.
“I felt incredibly uncomfortable knowing that I was on the way to staying at his house.
“He continued to grope my thigh for the length of the journey, despite my protests.”
‘He said he would not be far from me’
Once she reached Lord Lester’s home, the woman claimed, she chatted to his wife Lady Lester and they enjoyed a cup of tea.
“Lord Lester then said he would show me to my bedroom for the night,” she said in her witness statement.
“Once we had reached where I would be sleeping, he said it was not far from his bedroom, which he insisted on pointing out to me, saying he would not be far from me.
“This made me feel very uncomfortable”.
‘I scarcely slept all night, sleeping fully clothed’
The woman wrote: “I went into my bedroom and immediately placed the chair under the door; I felt afraid, recalling what had happened in the car.
“I immediately called T, who had been a friend for many years.
“I was in the bedroom at this time and I told her what had happened and I felt trapped in his house.
“She advised me that I put the chair under the handle of the door, which I had placed as I feared Lord Lester might come into my room in the night and she suggested I leave first thing in the morning.
“I scarcely slept all night, sleeping fully clothed.
“I removed the chair in the early hours of the morning as I knew his wife will be coming to bring me a cup of tea. This she did, and I then got ready and came down to leave for home.”
‘He pursued me around the kitchen and I pleaded with him to stop’
The woman said the next morning, when she went downstairs, Lady Lester had left.
She claimed in her witness statement: “At some point, I went over to place the crockery in the sink. It was then that he came up behind me and put his arms around my waist.
“I pushed him away.
“Again, he placed his arms around me and further up my body. I had to force myself away.
“He pursued me around the kitchen and I pleaded with him to stop.
“Once he stopped, I told him that I wished to leave. I wanted to call a cab, but he insisted that he went with me.
“I allowed him to, as I just wanted to get out of the house.”
‘He told me he loved me and could not help himself’
The woman continued: “Once we got to the train station, he told me that he had strong feelings for me.
“I responded by saying I did not feel the same way.
“I said that he should know better as he had a wife.
“He told me personal matters about his life which I would not have expected to have been told in the circumstances of a professional relationship. I made it very clear that I did not feel the same way and did not want to be involved with him in any way other than professionally.
“He persisted and told me that he loved me and said he could not help himself.
“I was relieved to get my train home, feeling uncomfortable and violated by this behaviour.”
‘He told me there were “things” he could buy’
Some time later, the woman said, she met Lord Lester at the House of Lords and he joined her outside for some fresh air.
“We sat down. He then proceeded to tell me that he had strong feelings for me,” she said.
“He questioned whether I was concerned that he would not be able to have sex and told me that there were ‘things’ he could buy for this.
“I was shocked and did not respond. He went on to make other inappropriate sexual comments. I stood up and went to walk back inside.”
‘If you sleep with me I will make you a Baroness within a year’
The woman’s witness statement continued: “As we were approaching the House of Lords building, he pointed to it and said ‘do you see that building’, to which I replied ‘yes’.
“He told me that it was the most powerful of decision-making.
“He said, ‘if you sleep with me I will make you a Baroness within a year’.
“He even spelt it out putting my surname in, and asked me how that sounded.
“I responded immediately without hesitation by saying that if I were ever to become a member of the House of Lords, it had to be purely on merit.”
‘He warned me there would be repercussions’
The woman claimed in her witness statement: “Once we had reached a private space and were not in full view of anyone he asked me again if I would sleep with him and suggested that I took some time to think about it.
“Again, I said no.
“He said that if I did not, he would see to it that I never had a seat in the House of Lords and warned me that there would be other repercussions for me, which he did not specify.
“He said that if I was a ‘good girl’ and did what he was asking, I would be in the House of Lords and could visit his house abroad with him.
“He made a number of further inappropriate sexual comments to me such as that he could see me becoming a demanding mistress.
“I was distressed and shocked by his behaviour.”
What Lord Lester said in response
Lord Lester “strongly denied all the allegations” during the investigation, today’s report says, calling them a “pack of lies”.
“He denied groping her thigh or making any other sexual advances,” it adds, and Lord Lester and his wife both maintained the allegations of sexual harassment were “untrue”.
Lord Lester also “categorically denied” offering a peerage in exchange for sex, saying: “I have no power to make such offers or threats in respect of peerages and the allegation that I did so is ridiculous and untrue.”
In a statement today, the peer said: “These allegations are completely untrue. I produced evidence which clearly demonstrated that what I was said to have done [several] years ago did not happen.
“Independent counsel who previously advised the committee on its procedures provided an advice which concluded that the investigation was flawed. I regret the committee’s conclusions in the light of these materials.
“There has to be a fair process for investigating sexual harassment claims in Parliament. Parliament is supposed to be a bastion of the rule of law but has ignored calls to reform this procedure properly for 20 years.
“I hope to be judged by my work over decades for gender equality, race relations and free speech.”
What the Lords standards investigation said
Details of the case were made public today in a report by the House of Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct.
The committee has recommended Lord Lester be suspended from the House of Lords until June 2022.
The Committee for Privileges and Conduct was the third investigatory body to look into the allegations.
First the Commissioner for Standards investigated the allegations and found the woman was “more likely than not” to be telling the truth.
The Commissioner upheld the complaint “on the balance of probabilities”, saying Lord Lester “persisted” in unwanted touching and sexual comments, “took advantage of her being alone in his house” and “abused his power”.
The matter was then passed to the Sub-Committee on Lords Conduct, which recommended Lord Lester be expelled from the House of Lords permanently.
But after Lord Lester lodged an appeal, peers noted the power to expel peers was only introduced in 2015.
The alleged behaviour took place more than a decade ago – so peers decided an expulsion could not be backdated.
In its final report the Privileges Committee said: “We endorse the conclusion of the commissioner that in respect of that conduct Lord Lester of Herne Hill breached provisions of the code in failing to act on his personal honour by sexually harassing the complainant and offering her corrupt inducements to sleep with him.”