Door left open? Hancock quits whip ‘temporarily’ over sex pest allegations
MP Mike Hancock has resigned the Liberal Democrat whip over sexual assault allegations "in the best interests of the party nationally".
The Portsmouth South MP had been proving uncooperative as the party leadership sought disciplinary action against Hancock, who has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
"I have no intention of allowing any circumstances to bully me out of my job serving the people of Portsmouth," Hancock declared last week.
Last night the party confirmed he had agreed to resign the party whip, meaning he will now sit in the Commons as an independent MP.
"Mike Hancock has chosen to resign the party whip while he defends himself against very serious allegations in a high court civil action," a spokesperson said.
"Mike Hancock strenuously denies the allegations made in the civil case and intends to clear his name in court."
Chief whip Alistair Carmichael left the door open for a potential return to the parliamentary party if he is cleared of the sexual assault allegations, however.
Hancock's letter to Carmichael made clear he had "decided to offer to temporarily withdraw from the parliamentary party in the Commons" after a meeting with his chief whip.
Carmichael replied: "If, at the end of your case, your name is cleared then I would fully expect to have you back in the parliamentary party to play again your role in the Commons."
Hancock was arrested in 2010 over allegations that he behaved inappropriately to a female constituent in 2009.
The woman, who had come to him with problems about his neighbours, respite care for her son and mental health problems, alleged he kissed her without consent, groped her breast and exposed himself.
Hancock was not charged after his 2010 arrest and has "vigorously" denied any wrongdoing.
But the woman is now suing him in a high court civil action, prompting the move by the parliamentary party.
In his letter yesterday evening Hancock repeated his denial of any wrongdoing, adding: "I can assure you that I will continue to vigorously defend my position and that I completely refute the allegations made against me."
Most MPs facing such allegations would despair of losing their constituency at the next general election, but Hancock has built up a strong following since taking Portsmouth North from the Conservatives in 1997.
His majority of 5,200 in the 2010 general election was an improvement on the 3,362 he achieved in 2005.
Since then Hancock has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons, however. His romantic links with his parliamentary researcher Ekaterina Zatuliveter, who MI5 alleged was a Russian spy, generated unwanted headlines.
The British government said there were "ample grounds for suspicion" about her activities but the special immigration appeals commission rejected their claim that she had worked for the SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence agency.
Hancock said after Ms Zatuliveter's arrest that she had been cleared by Commons security procedures and that there had been no "dodgy dealings" behind his employment of her.
The Lib Dem MP told politics.co.uk in January 2010 that he benefited from the insight she offered him into Russian affairs.
"I get a lot of knowledge – because she [Zatuliveter] takes the time and trouble to read what the Russian media are saying – about events in Britain, for example," Mr Hancock said.
"You get a different feel for the issue. Likewise, I'm hearing from her what the Russians are saying about their own analysis of what's going on in the world."