Inappropriate messages sent to staff member by former MP Jared O'Mara amounted to 'abuse of power' and broke sexual harassment policy

A controversial former Sheffield MP breached Parliament’s sexual misconduct rules by sending inappropriate messages to a staff member.

Monday, 19th April 2021, 11:41 am
Updated Monday, 19th April 2021, 11:48 am

Jared O’Mara was elected as Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam in 2017 but later quit the party to sit as an independent.

His tenure was clouded with scandal and he became largely absent for the majority of the time he was an MP, finally confirming he would not stand again in the 2019 election.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found Mr O’Mara had breached the policy in sending inappropriate messages to a former staff member via various media in June and July 2019, a ruling Mr O’Mara did not appeal.

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Former Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O'Mara. Photo: JPI Media

And now the Independent Expert Panel (IEP), which decides on sanctions for MPs accused of bullying, harassment, or sexual misconduct, has recommended he is stripped of any right to hold a parliamentary pass.

A short report released by the panel today detailed how Jennifer Barnes, who worked for Mr O’Mara in 2019 and agreed to waive her right to anonymity for the report, received messages from the former MP which “amounted to an abuse of power”.

Ms Barnes, who was 20 at the time, previously detailed in an interview how she received a 17-paragraph message from the MP on WhatsApp, prompting her to quit.

She told the Sheffield Star in an interview that she was made to feel “anxious and degraded”.

Messages seen by The Times, which Ms Barnes said were often sent late at night, showed Mr O’Mara saying he was “madly in love” with the then communications officer. In others he said she was a “delicate little flower” who was “effortlessly pretty”.

She told the BBC at the time: "It almost makes me kind of shiver being spoken to by someone who is 17 years older than me, he is my boss, he's an MP."

Mr O’Mara released a statement which said: “I am so sorry for the hurt and distress I have caused.

"I had a complete mental breakdown and I was not in my right mind when I sent those messages and I am deeply ashamed and scared that I did that."

Because Mr O’Mara is no longer a sitting MP, the panel said its options for sanctions were limited, but were able to withdraw his right to hold a parliamentary pass and therefore access the Palace of Westminster.

“In light of the aggravating features, in particular the lack of remorse or insight and the refusal to engage”, the panel felt this was the correct decision.

Sir Stephen Irwin, Chair of the IEP, said: “The panel makes its decisions guided by the principles of natural justice, fairness for all parties, transparency and proportionality. We understand the seriousness of, and the harm caused by, bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. We are rigorously independent, impartial and objective, acting without any political input or influence.”