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Ulster unionist peer faces 18-month suspension for homophobic bullying

Andrew Woodcock
·4-min read
<p>Lord Ken Maginnis speaking in the House of Lords earlier in the year</p> (Parliament Live)

Lord Ken Maginnis speaking in the House of Lords earlier in the year

(Parliament Live)

Independent Ulster Unionist peer Lord Maginnis is facing an 18-month suspension from the House of Lords after an inquiry found he bullied three MPs and a security guard using offensive homophobic language.

The House of Lords Conduct Committee also recommended that the 82-year-old peer should undertake behaviour change training, with his lengthy suspension extended further if he fails to engage constructively with the course.

The recommended suspension is one of the longest ever handed out in the House of Lords, but one of Maginnis’s victims said that in any normal workplace, he would have been “shown the door”.

The recommended 18-month suspension is among the longest ever handed down to a member of the upper House of Parliament.

It will take effect only if approved by a vote of the Lords on 7 December.

Complaints were brought against Lord Maginnis after a series of incidents in early 2020, said the report.

First, parliamentary security officer Christian Bombolo reported that the peer was “verbally abusive” when asked to show his pass to enter the Palace of Westminster on 7 January.

When Scottish National Party MP Hannah Bardell intervened, she was treated “rudely and agressively” by the peer, who as Ken Maginnis served 18 years in the House of Commons as an MP for the Ulster Unionist Party from 1983 to 2001.

Lord Maginnis later discussed the incident with the media, using “disrespectful and derogatory” language about Mr Bombolo and “homophobic and derogatory” language about Ms Bardell.

On 11 February, Lord Maginnis became “agitated” during a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces when he was not called to ask a question and addressed “rude remarks” to the meeting’s chair, Labour MP Luke Pollard.

Later that evening, he complained about Mr Pollard in an email sent to several parliamentarians – including the APPG chair, Conservative MP James Gray – with a “homophobic subject line” and containing “remarks about Mr Pollard which centred on his sexual orientation and were homophobic”.

Three weeks later on 4 March, Lord Maginnis got involved in a “heated discussion” with Mr Gray at an APPG breakfast meeting when he was told he could not attend because of his previous behaviour towards Mr Pollard.

After seeing the row, group member and Lobour MP Toby Perkins approached Lord Maginnis to ask what had happened, and said that the peer responded by being “homophobic, aggressive and disrespectful, including by making further homophobic remarks” about Mr Pollard and Ms Bardell, the report stated.

All three MPs and Mr Bombolo have agreed for their identities to be made public, said the committee.

Ms Bardell said Maginnis would have been “shown the door” in any normal workplace, and she hoped he will now apologise to her and the others involved.

“I appreciate that an 18-month ban is a serious sanction and that Lord Maginnis’s return to the House of Lords will be dependent upon him undertaking ‘a designated course of bespoke behaviour change training and coaching’," said the Livingston MP.

“However I consider it likely that if this had happened in any normal workplace in the UK and someone behaved in such a systematically abusive, bullying and homophobic way, which the report clearly states he has, they would be shown the door.”

She said that while the experience has had a “profound impact” on her mental health, she was glad she “stood up and spoke out”, adding: “As we seek to make politics, and indeed the nations of the UK, fairer and more just, we must root out abusive and homophobic behaviour such as that which I and others experienced at the hands of Lord Ken Maginnis.”

The committee doubled the nine-month suspension proposed by the House of Lords standards commissioner because Lord Maginnis “showed very little insight into the impact of his behaviour on the complainants, and no remorse for the upset he had caused.”

He instead “portrayed himself as a victim of a conspiracy … and continued to refer to the complainants in a disobliging and sometimes offensive manner”.

The report said that the recommended suspension should not end until Maginnis has completed behaviour change training and shown that he is “able to demonstrate a clear understanding of how his behaviour impacts on other people in the parliamentary community”.

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