MIKE Hancock has to step down – that is the message from city leaders following the MP’s apology for pursuing an ‘inappropriate friendship’ with a vulnerable female constituent.
There are growing calls that the veteran politician’s position as the parliamentary representative for Portsmouth South is untenable and he should stand down immediately.
And The News is backing that stance as the public’s faith in Mr Hancock has diminished in light of the revelations contained in a public apology issued on his behalf from the High Court.
In the document – part of a financial settlement with the victim – Mr Hancock admits he visited the home of the woman concerned on ‘several occasions, sometimes unannounced’ and conducted a friendship with her that was ‘inappropriate and unprofessional’.
Despite previously insisting he was innocent of any wrongdoing and telling The News he was ‘100 per cent innocent’ and would defend himself in court, Mr Hancock yesterday agreed an out-of-court agreement with the woman.
He also apologised for any distress and anger he caused, as well as any worsening of a psychiatric condition the mother has.
Mr Hancock’s apology does not say he is guilty of sexual assault, and as part of the settlement made, the woman will not be pursuing that matter further.
Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council – who chaired the authority’s investigation into Mr Hancock’s conduct – said: ‘I am absolutely disgusted with Mike Hancock in that he has allowed this vulnerable woman to suffer.
‘She has been accused of being a liar and been called all names under the sun. I am calling for him to resign as an MP. Councillors and MPs should be people of the highest moral standing.
‘He should be absolutely ashamed of himself.’
Flick Drummond, the Conservative Party’s parliamentary candidate for Portsmouth South, believes Mr Hancock should step down immediately, which would trigger a by-election ahead of next year’s General Election.
She said: ‘Mr Hancock admits his behaviour throughout has been “unprofessional” and in view of that, it is clear he can no longer represent the people of Portsmouth.
‘I call on Mike Hancock to resign immediately, to trigger a by-election, and to give the people of Portsmouth an opportunity to move on from this disgraceful period in its history.’
Cllr John Ferrett, Labour group leader, said: ‘Without question, he should resign as an MP immediately because his position is totally untenable.
‘He spent four years defending the allegations made.’
The revelations come after Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt said she had seen a 15-per-cent rise in her workload as more constituents in the South opt to see her rather than Mr Hancock because of his conduct.
Ahead of a disciplinary hearing in May last year to decide whether he should have the Lib Dem parliamentary whip withdrawn, Mr Hancock said: ‘I maintain my innocence 100 per cent.
‘When this goes to court, I will fight my corner. I could have made an offer and walked away, but I am not going to give in to people.’
In April, Mr Hancock’s local team put out a letter making reference to the fact he was being sued ‘for money’ and a report into his conduct commissioned by Portsmouth City Council was written by a former Conservative county councillor – QC Nigel Pascoe.
The woman concerned in the case first visited Mr Hancock in his capacity as a councillor and MP over issues she had with noisy neighbours in October 2009.
It was in July the year after that her support worker reported to police that he had behaved inappropriately and sexually assaulted her.
Three months later, Mr Hancock was arrested over the claims, although at the end of the year it was conﬁrmed that he would not face criminal charges.
The woman – who cannot be named for legal reasons – lodged a civil case against Mr Hancock at the High Court in 2011 over his behaviour.
Yesterday’s hearing revealed that Mr Hancock is still a patient at The Priory Hospital, in Marchwood, Southampton, where he is being treated for depression and complications arising from a heart operation.
He lost his seat as a councillor for Fratton at last month’s local elections, a position he held for 43 years. A psychiatric report confirmed he was fit enough to make the apology, and as part of the settlement his victim was given an undisclosed sum of money.
Speaking to The News, she said: ‘When I saw the apology I was in shock, I couldn’t believe it. This turmoil has finally come to an end.’
She added in a statement: ‘My physical and mental health have suffered and I am grateful that I may now have some closure to this traumatic episode.’
Meanwhile, Ms Mordaunt believes ‘serious questions’ remain over Portsmouth City Council’s actions over Mr Hancock’s conduct, with reassurances needing to be made that the public and those who are vulnerable are safe in the presence of elected representatives.
She said that will mean more to people than just hearing Mr Hancock has been expelled from the Lib Dems.