Frustration after Hancock probe is put on backburner

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A WOMAN alleged to have been sexually assaulted by Mike Hancock has told of her misery after an investigation into his behaviour was suspended.

Portsmouth City Council’s governance and audit and standards sub-committee has been investigating the claims surrounding the Fratton councillor since March.

The panel decided as a preliminary matter before a full hearing yesterday that it won’t decide whether Cllr Hancock is guilty of breaking the council’s conduct of conduct until the outcome of a civil case against him.

As previously reported, the alleged victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is suing Mr Hancock, also a Portsmouth MP, in the High Court. Cllr Hancock has always denied the claims.

Speaking after the meeting at the civic offices, the tearful woman said: ‘It’s absolutely devastating and it’s a disgrace.

‘I now have to wait and wait and that is what’s happened every time. This would never have happened to anyone else – why does the council protect him?’

Cllrs Les Stevens and Terry Hall felt any decision could have conflicted with a judge’s ruling, and were concerned about the fact they had been given differing legal advice.

QC Ian Wise told the council that if it delayed things, it could be taken to a judicial review and it would have a ‘90 per cent chance’ of losing.

But QC Elizabeth Lang said the threat of that action shouldn’t be taken into consideration, and she turned down suggestions made by QC Nigel Pascoe that the committee should consider public opinion and publicity of the situation.

Mr Pascoe, who made a report into Cllr Hancock’s conduct and advised councillors back in August to proceed, said ‘it was a strengthening of his previous view’ that there should be no further delay.

The parties involved will talk about a settlement at the High Court on December 16, but if they can’t agree, then a date for a hearing could be up to a year later.

City solicitor Michael Lawther revealed Cllr Hancock had been asked to take part in the investigation, but refused.

Cllr Donna Jones, sub-committee chairwoman, disagreed with her colleagues and thought it was in the best interests of everyone that a decision was made.

‘I am extremely disappointed that today’s hearing hasn’t gone ahead. It’s disappointing firstly because, as a council, we have a statutory duty to protect vulnerable adults and the alleged victim is a vulnerable adult.

‘Let’s not forget, a very experienced QC, Nigel Pascoe, has carried out an investigation.

‘He has met with her on two occasions and he has concluded that a sexual assault did take place and a number of breaches of the code of conduct did occur.’

Cllr John Ferrett, labour group leader, said cllr Hancock should still be suspended from his council cabinet position.

Up to £50,000 of taxpayers’ money has been spent funding the investigation.

Cllr Hancock’s spokesman said: ‘Mike greatly thanks his constituents for the many warm messages of support that he has had.

‘He will continue to work hard to serve his constituents as an MP and councillor including campaigning for jobs at the dockyard.’