Anthony Lester accused of 'corrupt inducements'; indecently asking for sex
A British Indian women's rights campaigner on Tuesday waived her right to anonymity to reveal that a UK peer had offered to make her a Baroness in the House of Lords if she agreed to have sex with him.
Jasvinder Sanghera is well-known in the UK as the founder of 'Karma Nirvana', a charity set up to combat the problem of young people, a majority from South Asian backgrounds, being forced into marriage.
A Lords' Privileges and Conduct Committee investigation had concluded that Lester groped Sanghera and offered her "corrupt inducements" to become his mistress and has recommended that he be suspended till June 2022.
But the 82-year-old peer, a prominent lawyer, has strongly denied the allegations as "completely untrue".
Sanghera, who was honoured with a CBE by Queen Elizabeth II for her charity work in 2013, disclosed that she was the woman who lodged the complaint after finding the courage to speak out and highlight that "what he did to me wasn't acceptable and wasn't honourable".
"I'm supposed to be this empowered woman but I began to feel like a phoney," she told 'The Times' in an interview.
Born in the town of Derby in the East Midlands region of England, Sanghera was disowned by her British Sikh family when she ran away as a 16-year-old to escape a forced marriage to a much older man chosen by her parents. She has since been instrumental in campaigning against the practice, leading to forced marriage now being illegal in the UK.
"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," said Sanghera, who wrote about her experiences in her autobiography 'Shame' in 2007.
She said she was contacted by Lester in 2006 to support his private member's bill on making forced marriage a civil offence. After a late meeting in Parliament, he allegedly made the indecent proposal to make her a "Baroness within a year" if she slept with him, warning that there would be repercussions if she refused.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement of women speaking out against their harassers, Sanghera sought legal advice and complained to the Lords Commissioner for Standards in November 2017. The investigation concluded recently, with the committee recommending Lester's suspension.
"The sense of relief was overwhelming. I wanted him to know that what he did wasn't acceptable and honourable," she said, calling for a proper system in place for other victims to feel confident about speaking out against men in positions of power.
The decision to investigate a peer for alleged sexual misconduct marks an unprecedented step for the UK Parliament. The Lords sub-committee concluded that it was a "tragic irony" that Lester had for a short time become "obsessively attracted to the complainant to the extent that he completely lost all sense of judgment and propriety".
House of Lords members is expected to vote on Thursday on whether to accept the committee's recommendation that he should be suspended until June 2022.
(With inputs from agencies.)