Jasvinder Sanghera, a leading women’s rights campaigner who was promised a peerage if she had sex with a senior member of the Lords, has urged other parliamentary victims of sexual misconduct to come forward.
In an interview with The Times, Sanghera revealed she was the woman who lodged a complaint against the former Liberal Democrat frontbencher Lord Lester of Herne Hill. She has accused Lord Lester of sexually harassing more than a decade ago.
Sanghera told The Times her decision to complain was prompted by a need to establish that “what he did to me wasn’t acceptable and wasn’t honourable”. “There needs to be a system in place that will give other victims the confidence to complain and to feel supported in doing so,” she said.
Sanghera worked closely with the human rights barrister in 2006 on the passage of a parliamentary bill. At the time he was 70 and she was 41.
An investigation found that Lord Lester made sexual comments towards her and even offered to make her his mistress.
It was the first time that the Lords commissioner for standards has investigated a peer for sexual misconduct. Lord Lester’s proposed punishment, suspension until 2022, would be the longest in modern history.
In 2006, Sanghera was contacted by Lord Lester, who wanted to make forced marriage a civil offence. She agreed to support his private member’s bill. Following a meeting that finished late, Sanghera missed her train home and the peer offered her a bed for the night at his home. He assured her that his wife would be there.
On the journey to his house, Sanghera said Lord Lester repeatedly touched her thigh. She removed his hand each time, but felt “incredibly uncomfortable”. After his wife left for work the next morning, she was standing at the sink in Lord Lester’s kitchen when he approached her from behind.
“He put his arms around my waist and I pushed him away. Again, he placed his arms around me and further up my body. I forced myself away and he chased me around the kitchen until I asked him to stop.”
Sanghera wanted to cut all ties with him but felt unable to because she was so committed to the proposed legislation.
He even promised to make her a “baroness within a year” if she slept with him, and said there would be repercussions if she refused.
When Sanghera continued to reject his advances, he allegedly stopped inviting her to meetings and became “aggressive in his language” towards her.
When she looks back on that time, Sanghera said she felt like a phoney for not speaking up.
“I speak about forced marriage in front of thousands of people. I talk about breaking the silence, but I hadn’t spoken about what he did to me,” she told The Times. “I’m supposed to be this empowered woman but I began to feel like a phoney.”
Lord Lester has strongly denied allegations of sexual harassment, saying they are “completely untrue”.