Controversy surrounding Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O'Mara continues after 20-year-old staff member accuses him of sexual harassment
In a week dominated by headlines about Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O’Mara following the sensational resignation of his aide, he now faces fresh criticism after a 20-year-old woman employed by Mr O’Mara accused him of sexual harassment.
While much of Mr O’Mara’s two years representing the constituency has been characterised by controversy and criticism, this week may have been the most challenging yet for the 37-year-old.
It began on Tuesday evening, when Mr O’Mara’s aide, Gareth Arnold, took over his official Twitter account to announce his resignation in a barrage of foul-mouthed posts, in which he claimed Mr O’Mara had ‘contempt’ for his constituents and urged him to call a by-election.
Mr Arnold said he had taken up the position eight weeks ago because he was a friend of Mr O’Mara’s and had been told by those around him that he was the one person who could ‘help him try and turn it around’.
Mr O’Mara, who has cerebral palsy and autism, refused to comment on the claims made by Mr Arnold until Thursday afternoon, when a lengthy ‘joint’ statement from the pair was released on his official website.
The statement said Mr O’Mara would be ‘sticking with’ Gareth and described him as the ‘Noel to his Liam,’ referencing the Gallagher brothers’ infamously turbulent relationship.
It stated Mr O’Mara would be taking some time out to seek professional help for his mental health, and that he wanted to apologise to his family, friends, constituents and a staff member he said he was in love with during a ‘delusional episode’.
The statement was released less than 10 hours before the allegations made by the same staff member were made public.
Excerpts from a grievance letter the 20-year-old sent to Mr O’Mara last week were published on The Times’ website at midnight on Friday, and stated that his sexual harassment of her had left her feeling ‘uncomfortable to the point at which I feel I can no longer stay silent’.
It also included text messages he sent her, including one she received last week in which he claimed to be ‘madly in love’ with her.
Mr O’Mara is also alleged to have told her he would die for her ‘coz ur an angel’ and that he was ‘excited about what we could do together’.
She claims he described her as ‘effortlessly pretty’ and a ‘delicate little flower’ in other messages.
When asked to comment specifically on the allegations, Mr O’Mara said: “It's all true. The poor attendance was due to my mental health. The jokes were jokes and I am not apologising for them. Nor should anyone who writes jokes as a form of fiction.
“Please understand that humour is fiction and an art form. I'm not calling myself a comedian however to be clear. My sense of humour has always been blue. And dark and satirical.”
He added: “I don't even see gender. I see people as individuals. Now please respect my privacy and allow me to focus on my health rather than trying to drive me to suicide again with straw man sensationalism about my views on sex and equality.
“I will always stand up for free speech. I reiterate my apology but messages during my delusion were never sexual. Nor did I ever have any attraction to her. I was going through a delusional episode. If you must know, like many disabled people and mentally ill, people I barely have a libido.
“Now please everyone don't hound me to my death and give me some space. "
Mr O’Mara declined requests for a further interview.
The 20-year-old and Mr Arnold were both part of the second intake of staff hired by Mr O’Mara, after the first lot of staff were either sacked or resigned.
Following this, Mr O’Mara announced his constituency office would be closed for a month while he searched for a new team.
At least one former employee, Maggie Flude, is taking him to an industrial tribunal over wrongful dismissal, with the case listed to be heard in court in Sheffield on September 25.
Mr O’Mara unseated former Prime Minster, Nick Clegg, in June 2017, when he won the Sheffield Hallam seat for the Labour Party for the first time in the constituency’s history.
He became a member of the Women and Equalities Select Committee in September 2017, but was forced to quit the following month after misogynistic, homophobic and xenophobic comments he is alleged to have made online resurfaced.
The Labour Party confirmed they had suspended Mr O’Mara from the party in October 2017, while an investigation into the comments was carried out.
In July 2018, the Labour Party confirmed Mr O’Mara would be reinstated following a review from the National Executive Committee’s disputes panel, who decided to issue Mr O’Mara with a formal warning and a requirement for training rather than taking him to the National Constitutional Committee - which has the power to expel members.
Mr O’Mara announced his resignation from the Labour Party later that month, and said he had ‘not been listened to or given a fair investigation’.
He has continued to represent Hallam as an independent, and has refused repeated calls for him to hold a by-election.
Mr O’Mara was the last of the 84 new MPs elected in 2017 to make his maiden speech, and has voted 124 times out of 412 opportunities to do so, which amounts to a participation record of 30 per cent.
He has also failed to vote on several key Brexit amendments, sparking criticism from his constituents.
Earlier this month, Mr Arnold set up a petition on Mr O’Mara;s behalf, calling for Parliamentary procedures to be changed to allow MPs to vote remotely in a bid to ‘bring democracy into the digital age’ and to allow better representation for constituents ‘regardless of a member’s mobility, work agenda, illness etc’.
Olivia Blake, Labour candidate for Sheffield Hallam, said: "Jared is clearly struggling to fulfil his duties as an MP, and the revelations about inappropriate behaviour towards a young female member of staff, which he has admitted, is deeply troubling. No one, least of all women, should have to fear going to work.
"The people of Hallam who need and expect support and representation are right to be concerned. At the same time, many people are worried about Jared's welfare and I share those concerns.
"Labour will invest in our communities in Hallam and across Yorkshire and the north, and I remain committed to doing what is in the best interests of the people of Sheffield."