Having recently composed a brief biography of one Roderick Richards, whose ministerial career came to a shuddering end in 1996 after it was discovered that he had enjoyed an 'action packed sex romp' in the House of Commons with a public relations executive named Julia Felthouse, a certain sense of déjà vu was apparent when the news emerged on Sunday, 22nd March 2009, that yet another of the nation's elected representatives had been indulging in unparliamentarily activities at the Palace of Westminster.
The elected representative in question was Nigel Griffiths, the Labour member for Edinburgh South since 1987, currently a member of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, and one-time government minister until he resigned in 2007 over the renewal of Trident. He was nevertheless regarded as being "highly connected", having been one of the few British politicians invited to attend Barack Obama's inauguration and, perhaps more to the point, was known to be a "close friend of Prime Minister Gordon Brown", being a former "university buddy" and "one-time flatmate" of Gordon Brown, as well as the best man at his wedding.
According to the News of the World, the paper whuch broke the story, Mr Griffiths had indulged in a "sordid House of Commons sex romp" with a woman who was not his wife, and on Remembrance Day to boot. Specifically, it was alleged that Griffiths had "smuggled a brunette into his oak-panelled study and cavorted with the naked woman on his sofa", and that the "sex games" had lasted from 11.35pm until 12.33am early on the following morning, after which they had moved on to "another London location" where "Griffiths also stripped off and joined the girl in a variety of sex acts".
The reason why the News of the World was able to supply a certain amount of detail regarding these events was that the couple had recorded their initial "hour-long encounter" in the House of Commons on camera, followed by another "porno picture session" at a nearby flat that had continued until 2.24 am; and naturally the paper was now in possession of this photographic evidence. Unfortunately those pictures the paper felt able to show (even online) were rather disappointingly unrevealing compared to the evocative descriptions provided in the text ("Now the brunette lies naked on a rug placed on the wooden floor. Smoking a cigar and looking at a laptop computer screen, her dark hair is tossed over her shoulders.") However this did mean that the nation was spared the sight of Griffiths lying "naked and smirking" as he smoked a presumably post-coital cigar.
The one thing that the News of the World did not provide was an explanation as to how they had obtained these photographs. But then the obvious presumption would be that they had obtained them from the very brunette who had lain naked on the rug in return for the usual large fee.
Now when the News of the World spoke to Griffiths at his office in the House of Commons on the 6th March 2009, he denied everything and insisted that their story was "absolutely groundless". When the paper then informed him that they had in their possession what they described as "incontrovertible evidence", Griffiths replied with the words "Fabricated evidence! You must have some fabricated evidence! Outrageous! Absolutely outrageous!" and went off to consult his lawyers. The News of the World waited a fortnight, heard nothing more from him or his lawyers, and ran the story on the 22nd March 2009. And when they asked Griffiths if he had anything further to say now that they had gone to print, his only response was a text message saying, "I have nothing to add to the statement I gave you. NG."
By the Monday Griffiths had changed his mind, and did have something to add. Specifically a brief statement which read, "I am, of course, ashamed my conduct fell below acceptable standards. I've little recollection of the evening but that doesn't make it right." It was not clear however whether the claim that he had "little recollection of the evening" meant that Mr Griffiths made such a regular habit of cavorting with women in his House of Commons office that he couldn't specifically recall any particular incident, or whether it meant that he was under the influence of alcohol or some other substance that promoted memory loss. (Although perhaps the News of the World should have offered to have provided him with their copies of the photographs in the hope that they might jog his memory.)
The Daily Record quoted a "friend" who claimed that Griffiths had been drinking that day of the romp and had told him that he couldn't "remember much of what happened that night" and that it was "all a blur". The friend also claimed that Griffiths believed that he had been "set up" and that it was all a "witch hunt", but most surprisingly also claimed that Griffiths "never knew about the photos so he thought he could deny it". Which rather raised the question that if Griffiths "never knew" about the photographs, then who exactly was supposed to have taken the snaps of the brunette disporting herself in his office and elsewhere?
In case any one might have been under the impression that the News of the World was merely pandering to the public's taste for smut, the paper did emphasise the 'serious' nature of its reporting and reminded its readers that there was such a thing as the Parliamentary Code of Conduct which stated that "Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament and never undertake any action which would bring the House of Commons, or its members generally, into disrepute."
One might have imagined that that cavorting with a brunette who was not one's wife within the precincts of the House might well be regarded as bringing said House into disrepute, as would being caught out lying to a journalist, even if it was one from the News of the World. Apparently not as it turned out, as although the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards John Lyon confirmed on the 24th March that he had received several formal complaints, on the very next day he announced he would not be launching an investigation. According to Mr Lyon "he did not have sufficient information" to justify an inquiry, and in any case the complaint related to Griffiths's "personal behaviour and private life" which fell outside the scope of the code of conduct, whilst he had concluded that Griffiths's behaviour could not be regarded as having brought the House of Commons generally into disrepute. No doubt the news came as a great relief to the nation's elected representatives who would now be able to continue using their Westminster offices as the locations for pornographic photo-shoots without worrying about getting into trouble with anyone.
The official world from the Labour Party was that "This is a private matter, not a matter for the Labour Party", and all an offical spokesman for the Prime Minister would say was that "Nigel Griffiths is not a member of the Government". A "Labour source" was however quoted as saying that the "party hierarchy is closing ranks and hoping this will go away". Given that Mr Griffiths's majority at the last General Election was only 405, it was therefore very likely that the problem would eventually go away
Griffiths's wife of thirty years was said to be "staying with friends", whilst Nigel himself was said to be "fighting to save his marriage". The "stockings-and-suspenders" woman at the centre of the affair remained anonymous, although it was noted that thanks to the security measures introduced by Parliament, it was likely that someone knew of her identity. But if they did, they were keeping quiet about it.
Compiled from a variety of reports in the British press over the period between 22nd March and 26th March 2009, most specifically;
- Neville Thurlbeck, Louse of Commons, News of the World, 22/03/2009
- Hamish Macdonell, Labour backs MP after sex claim, The Scotsman, 23 March 2009
- Lynn Davidson, Exclusive: Sex scandal MP Nigel Griffiths in battle to save marriage, Mar 23 2009