The Conservatives have been accused of failing to deal with allegations that a senior party organiser sexually harassed a string of young women at a public event.
Elena Bunbury, a prominent young Conservative, said she had submitted a complaint a year ago alleging that the organiser was “pleasuring himself” at a panel event and making her feel “continually objectified” with his comments. She said it had recently emerged that “numerous other young females within the party” were alleging that they “have been continually harassed and made to feel uncomfortable by the accused”.
After she went public with her claims, at least five other women said they had been targeted by the man, who is involved with a regional Conservative policy forum.
The allegations kicked off a furore on Twitter, with the female activists asking for the organiser not to be named, but calling on party headquarters to act against him.
Around 185 activists have now signed a letter criticising the “abhorrent way” the party’s code of conduct is structured, saying it is not possible for people to be held to account for sexual harassment as things stand.
A group of women subsequently issued a statement saying they had not wanted to speak out or criticise the Conservative leadership, but felt they had not choice but to go public.
“We have been left with no choice. The party didn’t listen, the association didn’t listen, CPF didn’t listen. So we had to be bold and be public to ensure our voices were heard. To ensure that people were safe,” they said.
“What we are asking for is a fair investigation into all allegations. We want an investigation into the lack of action … and potential coverup that [may have] occurred.”
Bunbury is a 21-year-old councillor and prominent Conservative activist. In her original statement, she said she had submitted her complaint a year ago, in which she claimed she had spoken at an event to find “this vile person was rubbing their crotch over and over at every sentence I made”.
“During the panel I was disgusted to look over to see Mr [redacted] continually touching his penis while looking at us. Members of the audience also noticed this and were disgusted. This is not creating the safe environment we need and want within our organisation.
Bunbury said that after her complaint she was subject to a witch-hunt, which became so unbearable that she resigned from the regional policy forum.
She was supported by another activist, 17-year-old Soutiam Goodarzi, who said: “Incidentally, I was involved in the same YCPF group as Elena, and I’d just like to say a massive thank-you to her for looking out for me & raising issues on my behalf. I never needed the “help” of someone obsessively promoting me just because I’m young and female … I don’t need to be given a platform because of my sex and age, simple.
“I’ve met some lovely men in politics - people who genuinely like me for my talents, and none of them have acted the way the person in question has.”
A third activist, Bhav Popat, tweeted: “Having gone through the same with the same man, I wasn’t ready to say something. But to clarify, I stand with Elena, Soutiam and every single person. This is not okay. Things need to change.”
Some of the women were attacked on Twitter for having raised the issue. Another Conservative activist, Emily Hewertson, responded: “The problem is, the party has had ample opportunity to investigate this after a number of formal complaints. Taking it to Twitter was a last resort, as people were not getting listened to.”
A party source said the Conservatives had received a complaint to the party’s central office only on Monday and acted immediately to suspend the member pending an investigation. A Conservative spokesperson said: “We take any allegations of this type incredibly seriously and are investigating this matter in line with our procedures.”
The man accused of sexual harassment did not reply to requests for comment.