ONE of Labour’s Holyrood hopefuls faces legal action after the parliamentary authorities dismissed his appeal in a row over groping. 

Paul Sweeney, who used to be the MP for Glasgow North East, had accused Tory Ross Thomson of grabbing his backside and genitals in a House of Commons bar in October 2018.

He also said the former MP for Aberdeen South had tried to put his hand down his trousers, breaching parliament's sexual misconduct policy.

The allegations led to Thomson, who was the chair of Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign in Scotland, quitting as a candidate at the 2019 general election.

Last year, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards cleared him, saying Sweeney’s claims were not supported by evidence from witnesses.

Although she agreed that Thomson was drunk and had invaded Sweeney’s personal space, she concluded this was not a breach of the policy.

Sweeney then submitted an appeal.

But in a report published today the independent expert panel has dismissed this, saying they backed the initial investigation which found “not just an absence of evidence to that effect, but contrary evidence from witnesses who were present”.

Sweeney - who is currently third on Labour’s list for the Glasgow region at the Holyrood elections - had appealed on five grounds, including questioning the investigation itself.

He said it had been "materially flawed" and was "unfair and inadequate".

However, in their report, the panel said there had been a thorough probe, which included speaking to 19 witnesses.

“In this case, the investigator and Commissioner were looking for evidence which would lend credence to the [Sweeney’s] account on the serious groping allegation. 

“What they found was not just an absence of evidence to that effect, but contrary evidence from witnesses who were present. For example, neither Witness 1 nor Witness 2 saw or heard anything that they considered to be sexual. 

“Witness 2 said that if there had been sexual groping as alleged, she/he would have seen it. Added to this is the first investigator’s note from his interview with the Reporter which reads: ‘[the Reporter] said that, despite the close proximity to him of [the Responder] during the incident, there had been no verbal sexual remarks of any kind.’ 

“In the light of that evidence and the evidence as a whole, a finding that the proven misconduct was not of a ‘sexual nature’ was inevitable.”

Thomson welcomed the decision. 

He said: “This is the second time his false and malicious allegations have been formally dismissed. I find it astonishing that Mr Sweeney had the brass neck to appeal the commissioner’s original decision, which was based on extensive evidence, including witness statements and CCTV footage contradicting his story."

He added: “Lying about sexual assault is despicable. It destroys lives, does a disservice to genuine victims and undermines the system in place to protect them. I hope today's decision finally marks the end of this smear campaign against me. 

“I intend to start restart legal discussions now that the appeal process has concluded.”

A spokesman for Sweeney said: "We note that the independent expert panel upheld the complaint that Mr Thomson invaded the Reporter's personal space without invitation, had leaned on him, repeatedly put his arms around him, and engaged in inappropriate and unwelcome personal touching for some minutes.

"We also note the counter-allegation that the Reporter's complaint was made maliciously was thrown out by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

"We are considering the implications of the decision in full and have no further comment at this time."

Sir Stephen Irwin, Chair of the Independent Expert Panel said: “The Panel made the decision in this first case guided by the principles of natural justice, fairness for all parties, transparency and proportionality, and will treat all further cases with the same regard and diligence.

“We understand the seriousness of, and the harm caused by, bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. We are rigorously independent, impartial and objective, acting without any political input or influence.”