What does the Sunday Mirror allege Keith Vaz did – and is it illegal?

Is it against the law to buy sex or to offer to pay for cocaine? And are poppers legal?

Is it illegal to buy sex?

Vaz is alleged to have paid for the services of two male escorts. In England, Wales and Scotland prostitution – the exchange of sexual services for money – is legal. A number of related activities, including soliciting in a public place, kerb crawling, owning or managing a brothel, and pimping, are crimes. Paying for the sexual services of a prostitute subjected to force is illegal. It is a crime in Northern Ireland to pay for sex.

Is it illegal to take poppers?

Vaz allegedly told the male escorts to bring “poppers” to their rendezvous. There is nothing to suggest he took them at the meeting. Taking “poppers” is legal. The liquid chemical drug – technically known as alkyl nitrites – used as a recreational drug since the 70s, won a last minute reprieve earlier this year when they were excluded from the Psychoactive Substances Act announced by the Home Office.

Is it illegal to offer to pay for cocaine?

The Sunday Mirror alleged that Vaz was said to have offered to pay for cocaine if it was brought to a future meeting, but stressed he did not want any himself. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act it is only an offence to supply another person with a controlled drug. From the newspaper account, no cocaine was purchased.

Why is the Charity Commission involved?

The Whitehall watchdog said on Monday that is examining claims made by the Sunday Mirror that an individual “linked to the diabetes charity Silver Star”, set up by the MP, paid money into an account used by one of the escorts.

There was no suggestion in the newspaper report that the charity’s money was used, or that the person who transferred the payments knew the purpose of those payments.

“The Charity Commission has asked for any evidence to be submitted and has contacted the charity as a matter of urgency this morning,” a commission spokesperson said.

Silver Star has denied that any payments were made from the charity in relation to the claims against Vaz. The Charity Commission said in a statement: “The Charity Commission is aware of the allegations made regarding an individual linked to the charity Silver Star. The Commission has asked for any evidence to be submitted and has contacted the charity as a matter of urgency this morning. We will assess any evidence to determine whether there is a regulatory role for the Commission.”

Is there a potential conflict of interest?

The home affairs committee, which Vaz chairs, is currently investigating prostitution. In preliminary findings published in July this year, the committee said the Home Office should change the law so that soliciting is no longer an offence.

Vaz said then: “Treating soliciting as a criminal offence is having an adverse effect, and it is wrong that sex workers, who are predominantly women, should be penalised and stigmatised in this way. The criminalisation of sex workers should therefore end.”


Caroline Davies

The GuardianTramp