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‘This is a smear campaign’: Pressure grows on Ian Blackford after bullying probe launched

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford.

Ian Blackford has branded claims he bullied an SNP worker a “smear campaign”, as pressure grows on him to resign as Westminster leader.

The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, is facing allegations he bullied an employee who was working for the party at the House of Commons.

The SNP worker has made an official complaint to Westminster officials who are investigating the claims, according to the Mail on Sunday.

The allegations pile further pressure on Mr Blackford who is already facing criticism over his handling of a sexual harassment complaint against MP Patrick Grady.

‘This is a smear campaign’

When asked about the fresh claims on Sunday, Mr Blackford pointed to a statement  issued by a party spokesperson which robustly denies the claims against him.

“This is a smear campaign,” Mr Blackford told the Press and Journal.

A spokesman for the MP said: “Mr Blackford is adamant that these outrageous claims are entirely without foundation.

“The preliminary stage of any Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) inquiry is supposed to proceed in complete confidence so, quite rightly, Ian has absolutely no knowledge of any such complaint being made.

If the confidentiality of the complaints process had been breached, it suggests a deliberate but crude attempt at a political smear to generate negative headlines.

Spokesperson for Ian Blackford

“However, he is absolutely clear that there are no credible grounds whatsoever for such a complaint and, if an inquiry should proceed, he will engage fully to clear his name.

“If the confidentiality of the complaints process had been breached, it suggests a deliberate but crude attempt at a political smear to generate negative headlines.

“Mr Blackford will take as robust action as necessary to protect his reputation.”

The Mail on Sunday reported that the alleged ‘bullying’ incidents took place over a ‘number of months’.

It is understood the party worker wanted to report Mr Blackford following the outcome of the probe into Mr Grady, MP for North Glasgow.

But a deadline set in April by the ICGS for considering cases more than one year old meant he had to lodge the complaint earlier.

Patrick Grady ‘steps away’ from SNP

Mr Blackford has become engulfed in a storm over his handling of a sexual harassment complaint made against Mr Grady.

It comes as the Met Police confirmed it is currently investigating an allegation of sexual assault against Mr Grady.

It is understood the complaint was made by a third party.

An SNP spokesman said Mr Grady is “stepping away from his party membership while the police inquiry continues”.

It means he will not be an SNP MP during this time and will instead sit as an independent.

A parliamentary probe saw Mr Grady suspended from Westminster for two days after he was found to have acted inappropriately towards an SNP staff member.

Patrick Grady MP.

Mr Grady, the SNP’s former chief whip, said he was “profoundly sorry” after the independent panel’s investigation.

Mr Blackford had urged Mr Grady to consider his position after criticism of the party’s handling of the complaint.

That came after Mr Blackford was heard in a leaked recording telling SNP MPs to rally around Mr Grady, saying he looked forward to “welcoming Patrick back” following his two-day suspension.

Nicola Sturgeon condemned the recording as “utterly unacceptable”.

Met Police ‘making enquiries’

A Met Police spokeswoman said: “On Wednesday, June 22 police received an allegation of sexual assault that is said to have taken place in October 2016 at a commercial premises in Folgate Street, E1.

“The report was submitted online by a third party.

“Officers will now be making enquiries, including contacting the alleged victim, in order to assess what further action is required.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has called on Mr Blackford to resign over the handling of the probe into Mr Grady.

He said: “At no point has Ian Blackford showed an ounce of leadership.

“He voiced absolute full support for Patrick Grady over the victim, allowed SNP whips to act menacingly and resorted to intimidation.

“Ian Blackford must go.”

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