A STAR columnist in London’s political media scene was confidentially handed a “big cash payment” in return for stepping down amid a hushed-up probe into allegations of sexual harassment, according to reports in the New York Times.

The US paper took an interest in the case of Nick Cohen – a former columnist for the Observer and Private Eye who has also written regularly for the Spectator – after seven women reportedly accused him of inappropriate sexual behaviour, but most British press steered clear of the story.

As The National reported in August 2022, Cohen had his weekly column in the Observer – the Sunday paper from Guardian News and Media (GNM) – paused amid an independent investigation into allegations against him.

In January, Cohen stepped down permanently from his role at GNM “on health grounds”.

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But reports in the NYT say that the newspaper firm secretly paid Cohen a large financial settlement, and agreed to confidentiality, in return for his notice.

Cohen told that newspaper he had accepted a deal, but would not disclose its terms.

Private Eye editor Ian Hislop said he and Cohen – who formerly wrote for that magazine under the pseudonym Ratbiter – had talked about the deal with GNM and the probe into the columnist’s conduct.

Hislop told the NYT: “Instead of any conclusion it ended up with a secret agreement and a big cash payment.”

Lucy Siegle (below), a BBC One Show reporter who also writes for GNM, had sparked the investigation after going public with her accusations that Cohen groped her in the newsroom while she was an editorial assistant in 2001.

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GNM said Siegle had declined the offer of a full investigation when she first took her allegations to executives in 2018, something she denies was ever on the table.

She then went public with her story in late 2021, with her lawyer Jolyon Maugham taking public aim at Cohen’s behaviour.

The Financial Times had a journalist pitch the story on Cohen and speak to five of his accusers, but the paper’s editor, Roula Khalaf, ultimately decided that it would not run.

But the NYT story published on Tuesday outlines Siegle’s groping allegations as well as reporting on similar allegations from two other named women: Rebecca Watson and Heather Brooke.

There are further allegations from anonymous women. One claimed that Cohen had suddenly kissed her on the mouth and pressed his erection against her thigh after she met him in a pub to discuss her career in 2010.

Another said that, while working remotely with Cohen in 2018, the columnist had repeatedly offered to send her explicit photographs of himself.

NYT reported that Cohen’s reputation for groping and inappropriate behaviour “was widely known”.

After Cohen left GNM in early 2023, the Press Gazette reported on Twitter: “Columnist @NickCohen4 has resigned from The Observer on health grounds. Editor @paulfwebster paid tribute to the 'brilliant' and 'incisive' columnist.

“Last year complaints were raised by @lucysiegle and @JolyonMaugham relating to workplace behaviour.”

Jean Hannah Edelstein, who formerly worked for the Observer and told the NYT that Cohen was not alone in his behaviour, wrote in response: “How many young women gave up hope of being described as brilliant and incisive because of the culture at this newspaper?”

“Exactly. You always know the exact question,” Siegle responded.

The NYT reported that, when told that seven women had raised allegations of sexual misconduct against him, Cohen said: “Oh, God. I assume it’s stuff I was doing when I was drunk.”

It reported that the former GNM columnist would not respond to specific allegations, but said he had stopped drinking in 2016 and only one complaint was more recent.

“I look back on my addicted life with deep shame,” he said.

GNM said: “We take all allegations of workplace harassment extremely seriously and aim to support victims in all circumstances.

“We have processes which anyone can use to raise complaints so that they can be fully investigated.”

The NYT has shared a paywall-free link to their investigation with The National. You can read it here.