Labour MP denies pulling former senior aide’s hair
Carolyn Harris gave evidence at Cardiff Crown Court in the trial against her former senior aide Jenny Lee Clarke.
The deputy leader of Welsh Labour has denied pulling the hair of her colleague so hard that clumps came out.
Carolyn Harris, MP for Swansea East, gave evidence at Cardiff Crown Court where her former senior aide Jenny Lee Clarke is standing trial.
Clarke is accused of forging Mrs Harris’s signature and fraudulently submitting a form to give herself a £2,000 pay rise and reduce her weekly hours from 40 to 37.5.
Mrs Harris has insisted she did not approve the annual pay increase from £37,000 to £39,000 and had no knowledge of an email purportedly from her confirming the change.
The jury of eight men and four women has heard Clarke was hired by Mrs Harris the day after her election to the Swansea East seat in May 2015.
Both Clarke and Mrs Harris had previously worked for Sian James, the former MP for the constituency.
Stephen Donnelly, representing Clarke, accused Mrs Harris of assaulting his client by pulling her hair so hard that clumps came out in November 2014.
“That’s totally untrue,” Mrs Harris replied.
Mr Donnelly said: “You shook her so violently that you pulled clumps of hair out.”
The MP insisted: “That is definitely not true.”
Jurors were told that Clarke later reported the alleged incident to police and made a statement about it in January 2016.
Mr Donnelly asked: “Did police ever speak to you about the allegation raised by Jenny Clarke?”
Mrs Harris answered: “Never. I saw the story in the Sun newspaper but I didn’t know at the time.”
She refuted claims that she had got down on her knees and apologised to Clarke.
The court heard Mrs Harris wrote a letter to Clarke promising her a full-time position if she was elected as an MP, which the defence claimed was to “hush her up”.
“I didn’t need to hush Jenny Clarke up,” Mrs Harris said.
“Nothing had happened. She took the job from May and was perfectly happy.”
Mr Donnelly accused Mrs Harris of abusing Clarke and “outing” her to colleagues when she had confided that she was gay.
The MP said there was “office banter” and both women would criticise each other’s dress sense.
“Was it office banter when you said, ‘Look at your dyke boots’?” Mr Donnelly asked.
Mrs Harris replied: “I don’t remember saying that but if I did it would have been banter.
“It’s a term for lesbian. Jenny Clarke is. I’m certainly not homophobic. I’m an ally of the LGBT community and I have always been.”
She said Clarke herself used the term but told the court it would not be used in a formal capacity.
The court heard Clarke told Mrs Harris, now the shadow minister for women and equalities, that she was gay in 2011.
Mr Donnelly asked: “You asked what she and her partner would do intimately?”
Mrs Harris replied: “That’s not correct.”
She denied claims that Clarke had asked her to stop asking such questions and said she had not needed to “out” her as “it was quite obvious”.
Mr Donnelly told the court Mrs Harris asked Clarke to clean her car, as well as mow her mother’s lawn using a lawnmower purchased on the constituency office’s account.
Mrs Harris said the time of the allegation was when her mother died and therefore she would not have been asking for a lawnmower to be bought.
Mr Donnelly also claimed that a pressure washer had been purchased on the account to wash Mrs Harris’s terrace at home, which she denied.
“Jenny Clarke was at your beck and call, you knew that you had your thumb on her,” he told Mrs Harris.
She replied: “Not at all. I would do things for Ms Clarke regularly. I had no power over Jenny Clarke whatsoever.
“We had a good friendship. I did her a good many favours including giving her a television, a car, holidays in my caravan – it was a mutually beneficial friendship.”
Mrs Harris described a “lovely atmosphere” in the office and said staff would laugh together and talk about “anything and everything”.
“We would all have physical contact in terms of touching but not violent contact – not at all,” she told the jury.
“I wouldn’t have shaken her head. This is really distressing to suggest such a thing.”
She insisted that Clarke’s dismissal was in progress by January 2016, when a colleague forwarded forms highlighting the pay rise and reduction in hours.
Clarke is also accused of writing an email to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) from Mrs Harris’s account, confirming the change.
In police interview, Clarke admitted signing Mrs Harris’s name on the form and sending the email but insisted both were done on the MP’s instruction.
The trial continues.