Labour MP and former minister Ivan Lewis has acknowledged that his behaviour towards some female colleagues has been unwelcome and made them feel uncomfortable.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News issued through his lawyer, the MP for Bury South, who served as a minister in Tony Blair's and Gordon Brown's governments before holding several shadow cabinet positions under Ed Miliband, denied he had sexually harassed anyone and said he had "never made non-consensual sexual comments or sexual advances to women".
Lewis said he had "good professional relationships and enduring friendships with virtually all my female colleagues.
"However," the statement continued, "I understand that a few women have claimed that my behaviour made them feel uncomfortable. I have on occasion asked women I work with out for drinks or dinner, or developed strong feelings for them, and I am genuinely sorry if this was unwelcome or inappropriate in the circumstances, and caused anyone to feel awkward."
The statement came after a woman told BuzzFeed News that he repeatedly touched her leg and invited her back to his house when she was a 19-year-old student attending a Labour party event in 2010.
The woman, who asked BuzzFeed News to protect her identity, said she felt unable to attend any further Labour events in Lewis’ constituency after coming into contact with him at the Christmas fundraising event.
She said the incident happened when Lewis sat opposite her at the social function. At the time Lewis was the shadow culture secretary in Ed Miliband's front bench team.
"I’d just turned 19 and I went to a fundraiser," she said. "I lived in Bury South at the time. He sat across the table from me and started stroking my leg with his leg, I thought it was mistake, but then every time I moved, he moved and kept stroking my leg again."
The woman said she eventually changed seats and moved away from Lewis because she felt so uncomfortable.
Later that night, she alleged Lewis then repeatedly asked her to come into his house, even after she declined his initial invitation.
The woman said she never reported the incident but claimed she was reluctant to get involved other local Labour party events.
Lewis denies the woman's account in its entirety.
Separately, a senior civil servant, who worked with Lewis when he was a health minister in Gordon Brown's government, told BuzzFeed News that young female staff members were warned to stay away from him because of his reputation.
In 2007, Lewis apologised after sending texts to a young civil servant, who worked in the Department of Health. According to press coverage a year later Lewis’ texts commented on her looks and clothes and asked her for dates.
After the civil servant told her bosses she was uncomfortable with the texts, Lewis apologised "unreservedly" but kept his job. Contemporary accounts suggest she was offered a slightly more junior role in a different department before quitting the civil service soon afterwards. At the time, Lewis’ fellow health minister, Ben Bradshaw said: "It was dealt with properly. There is no suggestion rules or codes were broken."
The senior civil servant who worked with Lewis told BuzzFeed News: "It just became common knowledge around the office for the female press officers to be a bit careful, to avoid him. And if they were away on overnight visits with him to be really careful, try to avoid being one-on-one in a non-open space. Senior press officers had started briefing junior members of staff on how to avoid him, keep away from him. It became known that if a press officer started she’d be briefed to keep away from him."
She said that the briefings were unofficial and verbal and that nothing was ever put down in writing. BuzzFeed News has no evidence that Lewis was made aware of these concerns or any formal complaint was made to him at the time.
In a statement, a Labour party spokesperson said: "The Labour party takes all allegations of sexual harassment extremely seriously. No complaint has been received in relation to these allegations. All complaints are investigated in line with our robust procedures."
The full statement issued by Lewis through his lawyer reads
I totally deny having sexually harassed anyone; I am appalled by that suggestion and I have never made non-consensual sexual comments or sexual advances to women. I have had good professional relationships and enduring friendships with virtually all my female colleagues. However, I understand that a few women have claimed that my behaviour made them feel uncomfortable. I have on occasion asked women I work with out for drinks or dinner, or developed strong feelings for them, and I am genuinely sorry if this was unwelcome or inappropriate in the circumstances, and caused anyone to feel awkward.
Ivan Lewis was a junior minister in the Blair and Brown governments, then a shadow cabinet minister under Ed Miliband. He was not a member of the cabinet, as previously stated.
Hannah Al-Othman is a political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Hannah Al-Othman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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Alex Spence is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alex Spence at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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