Sex assault victims should go to police, says Therese Coffey in wake of Chris Pincher claims

·3 min read
Therese Coffey, on the BBC's Sunday Morning programme
Therese Coffey, on the BBC's Sunday Morning programme

People should go to the police if they think they are a victim of sexual assault, a Cabinet minister has said in the wake of allegations about Chris Pincher.

Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, urged abuse complainants to come forward and insisted Downing Street had responded "decisively" amid criticism Boris Johnson had been too slow to act.

Mr Pincher, who resigned as deputy chief whip on Thursday, has been suspended from the Conservative Party and faces a formal investigation after claims he had drunkenly groped two men at an event at the Carlton Club.

The inquiry into Mr Pincher, which follows a formal complaint, is being investigated by the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS). It was set up in 2018 to investigate bullying and harassment claims following the "Pestminster" scandal.

Chris Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip on Thursday and was suspended from the Conservative Party
Chris Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip on Thursday and was suspended from the Conservative Party

"People should have the confidence to come forward - whether they want to do that through the ICGS, which has been set out deliberately to take this approach," Ms Coffey said after further allegations of unwanted passes and groping emerged over the weekend.

"I think it’s important that people should have the confidence to follow the procedures that have been put in place deliberately because of situations like this. I wish people would go to the police more with allegations if they feel a crime has been committed.

"I’m very much in favour of dealing with the situations firmly and in Chris Pincher’s situation that is what has happened. We need to continue to try and encourage people to come forward ... Nobody in that regard should be feeling they’ve got some protection, they haven’t."

Speaking to Sky News's Sophy Ridge, Ms Coffey said Mr Johnson appointed Mr Pincher to the Whips' Office "in good faith" at a reshuffle in February.

"I’m not aware that he was made aware of, like, specific claims about any particular incidents or anything like that, no, I don’t believe he was aware. I’m not privy to the exact conversations that went on.

"I have been told the PM was not made aware of specific claims and indeed there’s an aspect of a vetting process that every ministerial appointment goes through but ultimately it’s a decision for the Prime Minister and I believe he made that in good faith."

Downing Street last week said the Prime Minister was not aware of any specific allegation before the appointment of Mr Pincher was made
Downing Street last week said the Prime Minister was not aware of any specific allegation before the appointment of Mr Pincher was made

In separate comments on the BBC's Sunday Morning programme, Ms Coffey said she had not spoken directly to the Prime Minister about the matter, but was given assurances by "somebody from the No 10 press office".

While government sources told The Telegraph widespread "rumours" had existed about Mr Pincher's alleged misconduct, Ms Coffey said she was not aware of any allegations about him and was not "part of the general chatter [or] rumour mill discussions".

Last week, Downing Street said the Prime Minister "was not aware of any specific allegation before the appointment was made, and there was no basis to stop the appointment".

Ms Coffey also pointed to reforms in recent years aimed at ensuring the well-being of staff working on the estate, but rejected suggestions closing the bars in Parliament would improve the wider "culture" of Westminster .

In his resignation letter to Mr Johnson on Thursday night, Mr Pincher wrote: "Last night I drank far too much. I embarrassed myself and other people which is the last thing I want to do and for that, I apologise to you and those concerned."

Jonathan Reynolds, Labour's shadow business secretary, claimed Ms Coffey's interview performances had been "desperate" and said the Conservative Party "repeatedly chooses to do what is politically expedient over what is right".