LONDON — Three women have made separate accusations that a prominent MP twenty years their senior used his position to subject them to sexual harassment.
The women claimed that Julian Knight — a former Tory MP who now sits as an independent — approached them in near-identical circumstances: inviting them to discuss job opportunities before touching them inappropriately, sharing intimate details of his personal life, and bombarding them with messages.
When asked about the claims, Knight responded: “None of these allegations has any basis whatsoever in truth.”
“They have been repeatedly made to various media over several years as part of a concerted smear campaign against me which is now under appropriate investigation,” he added in a statement. “To publish them would be wrong, misleading and defamatory.”
Knight, a former select committee chair, was suspended from the Conservative Party last year after a complaint was made about him to the Metropolitan Police. Essex Police confirmed earlier this year that they are investigating an allegation of serious sexual assault handed to them by the Met.
However, POLITICO has investigated other claims of misconduct of increasing concern to the party stretching back several years.
Three women alleged that Knight used the pretext of discussing job opportunities to make inappropriate contact with them before harassing them. POLITICO has taken multiple steps to verify the allegations, including reviewing contemporaneous messages.
The first woman claimed that she met Knight in 2015, not long after he was elected, when she was a recent graduate, and he invited her for a job interview.
She claimed that he transferred their meeting to a bar without warning. He bought her a drink before telling her she would be expected to work long hours. He then started stroking her arm and her thigh under her dress, she said, at which point she said she felt “panicked” and made an excuse to leave.
He went on to send her messages for several months afterward, asking if she would like to go for a drink, according to the woman.
The second woman, also in her 20s at the time, alleged that Knight added her on social media in 2017 and repeatedly requested to meet away from the parliamentary estate in order to discuss a job opening.
When they met, he drank heavily, shared intimate details of his personal life and questioned the woman about her own, despite her attempts to focus on the possible job vacancy.
In messages seen by POLITICO, he continued to message her afterwards for several weeks in order to invite her for drinks as she tried to politely brush him off.
In messages and in conversations with a third woman, in her early 20s at the time they met in 2018, Knight said he would need to get to know her away from work before he could recommend her for a job in parliament, she alleged.
She claimed that he messaged her persistently over the course of months and on one occasion put his hand on her leg during a meeting with others so that she could not get away without drawing attention to herself.
Parliament’s code of conduct specifies that asking personal questions or offering unwanted personal information and repeatedly propositioning someone fall within the definition of sexual misconduct.
‘You don’t forget’
None of these women reported his behavior at the time, believing there was little chance of effective action being taken and fearing it could damage their standing in the party. Two have since raised concerns with senior figures in the Conservative Party, one of whom has also shared her allegations in writing with the police.
“You don’t forget how an incident like that makes you feel,” one of the women said. “How cheap, how stupid you were for believing he really wanted to employ you. I hate that someone else might have had that experience with him after me.”
The second woman said that following her experience with Knight, she turned down invitations from men she met through work to go for drinks or for lunch because she was afraid of being put in a similar situation, which she believes has had an impact on her career.
Others who have worked with Knight also speak of concerns about his behavior. A fourth woman, a former parliamentary researcher who has had extensive contact with him, said she feared his alleged behavior had been “getting worse over time.”
A fifth woman, again a former parliamentary researcher in her mid-20s, claimed Knight asked her if she was “obsessed with dick.”
Two senior party figures — an MP and a former adviser — said government whips had been aware of informal concerns about Knight for at least five years, and this contributed to the decision to remove the whip after he was reported to the police.
Knight has also been reported to parliament’s independent complaints and grievance scheme (ICGS), according to two people familiar with the matter.
Knight has consistently denied any wrongdoing and has previously accused the Conservative whips of embarking on a “witch hunt” against him. He vowed he would not pursue the restoration of the Tory whip, saying his reputation had been “tarnished” by the party and he had suffered “untold” mental and physical damage as a result.
He was elected MP for Solihull in 2015, where he now sits as an independent, and was until April chairman of the influential House of Commons digital, culture, media and sports committee, when he announced he would stand down. He has said he will not seek re-election as an MP.
The Conservative Party is aware of the ICGS and police investigations into his conduct, according to two people familiar with the matter, and are providing support to the complainants.
A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “The ICGS is an independent body set up by parliament and the Conservative Party respects its processes.”
A House of Commons spokesperson said: “All allegations are taken seriously and the independent complaints and grievance scheme [ICGS] operates on the basis of confidentiality for the benefit of all parties.”
Knight has undertaken to stay away from parliament while his conduct is investigated. However, he is still fully entitled to access the parliamentary estate as a sitting MP.
Last week the head of parliament’s complaints system wrote to all parliamentary staff admitting more needs to be done to maintain their trust and confidence, after one investigation into a former MP broke down while another MP was found to have brought parliament into disrepute.
Eleni Courea contributed reporting.