Guardian warned as MP accuses Higgins

Soley, left, accused ex-Sun editor in Commons of sexual harassment

Lawyers acting for former Sun editor Stuart Higgins have warned The Guardian against publishing details of alleged serious sexual harassment involving him and a female member of staff.

They contacted the paper close to deadline on Tuesday evening after Clive Soley MP made a statement in the Commons claiming there had been a culture of “sexual harassment and bullying” at News International.

The Guardian had details of a letter sent from lawyers Olswang to News International detailing the alleged harassment. But in the end the paper decided to stick purely to the details of Soley’s Commons statement rather than risk an injunction.

The Labour backbencher said a female member of staff at The Sun was given a £500,000 payoff and asked to sign a gagging order after making allegations of sexual harassment against Higgins.

He said: “As far as I am aware, no proper disciplinary hearings took place and other senior staff appear to have colluded with what was by any standards extremely offensive and destructive behaviour. The police were not called when hate mail was being sent on News International stationery to the victim.”

According to Soley, the harassment dates back to 1996.

Soley said he became involved in the matter after a chance meeting with the complainant some years ago.

He said he had written to News International detailing his concerns in June and received a reply from Sun editor Rebekah Wade asking him how many complaints of sexual harassment were made by the staff of MPs when he was chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

He said: “I saw this as a direct attempt to intimidate and threaten me in order to prevent me making further enquiries.”

When asked why he has brought the subject up now and used parliamentary privilege to do so, Soley said: “There may be other people who have suffered in this situation and this could give them the courage to come forward.”

A spokesman for News International said: “Mr Soley has hidden behind parliamentary privilege to raise allegations made seven years ago concerning two ex-employees of News International. He has made the extraordinary decision to name one of these employees, despite having no knowledge as to the truth of the allegations or to the outcome of the alleged complaint. This would not appear to be a proper use of this ancient privilege.

“Our company enjoys no such privilege and we are bound by a continuing duty of confidentiality to exemployees, by data protection legislation and by our internal human resources procedures, not to discuss alleged allegations of this kind. The Sun’s investigation into harassment in Parliament is I believe ongoing.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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