14 Oct 2022

CCHQ confirms Conor Burns MP was subject of sexual harassment complaint in 2017

Conservative MP Conor Burns was the subject of a sexual harassment complaint five years before he was sacked as a minister for alleged inappropriate behaviour at the Tory Party Conference, Channel 4 News can reveal.

The sexual harassment claim was made against the Bournemouth West MP in 2017 and alleged incidents said to have taken place in 2013.

Mr Burns vigorously denies the allegations saying that they are “without merit” and were withdrawn “almost immediately” before an investigation even took place. He told us the complaint was never put to him and that it was made by a “bad faith actor motivated by malice”.

The complaint is unrelated to the alleged incident at a bar in Birmingham’s Hyatt Hotel at the conference earlier this month, that led to him being sacked as Minister for Trade Policy by Prime Minister Liz Truss. Downing Street insisted the Prime Minister was not made aware of the 2017 sexual harassment claim when she appointed Mr Burns as a Minister for Trade on 7 September.

Prior to his appointment Mr Burns was vetted by the Cabinet Office’s Propriety and Ethics Team. The Cabinet Office told Channel 4 News it also had not known about the previous 2017 complaint.

The complaint against Mr Burns in 2017 concerned allegations of inappropriate conduct against one individual in 2013. The complaint was referred to the Conservative Party from the Chief Whip’s Office.

Channel 4 News understands the 2017 complaint resulted in the commencement of a process under the rules of the Conservative Party Code of Conduct.

The Conservative Party said the complaint was withdrawn shortly after it was made. They declined to provide any further details about the process.

Channel 4 News understands the allegations were withdrawn due to a lack of confidence in the complaints process. The party insisted it had “due regard for due process”.

When Channel 4 News asked the party if they had received a complaint about Mr Burns in 2017 it initially responded saying it had not received one.

But after Channel 4 News produced further evidence the party said, while an initial check did not indicate a complaint had been made, they wished to clarify and confirm a complaint against the MP had been made.

A Conservative Party spokesperson told Channel 4 News: “As there is currently an active investigation involving Mr. Burns, we are unable to comment further.”

Conor Burns was fired last Friday, after an allegation of “serious misconduct” at the bar at the Hyatt Regency Hotel during the Conservative Party Conference. He denies the claim.

Mr Burns lost his job as Trade Policy Minister and has had the whip withdrawn while a formal investigation takes place. He has protested his innocence in a series of tweets and in an interview with Channel 4 News earlier this week.

He said previously: “I’ve been overwhelmed by the support from my colleagues, who have found it beyond strange that the whip was withdrawn, and I was sacked from ministerial office, without being given the opportunity to be told what the allegation was, or how I could engage in the process to respond to it.

“I used to live in a country where the rule of law, natural justice and a process took place, and where people were presumed innocent until proven otherwise.”

In a letter to Channel 4 News, he said the allegations were never put to him and there was never an investigation.

Both of the claims, which are unrelated, have not been proven.