A Labour MP accused of unfairly dismissing his aide and ex-girlfriend has said she was fired after “humiliating” him by calling him a “first-class idiot” in emails to party leader Sir Keir Starmer.
Elaina Cohen has alleged Birmingham Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood sacked her after she raised concerns with him under whistleblowing regulations about a fellow staffer who she claimed was a “criminal abuser”.
Ms Cohen claims she was previously in a relationship with the 60-year-old MP while employed by him, before it ended when she refused to become his “second wife” in an Islamic nikah marriage ceremony.
The former aide has also accused Mr Mahmood of “abhorrent” bullying and “racism” while she worked as his senior parliamentary adviser until January last year.
But giving evidence at an employment tribunal in London on Monday, the MP said Ms Cohen was the one who stopped treating him with “respect” after he ended their relationship in 2005.
What else has Khalid Mahmood told the tribunal about the allegations?
Mr Mahmood has said in a written statement that he cut personal ties with her after she started behaving in an “irrational” way, but kept her on as an employee.
In the years that followed, the aide “had a habit of having a row” and “quarrelling” in professional settings, including Portcullis House and the House of Commons, he claimed on Monday (May 23).
Mr Mahmood said that at first he “tolerated” the behaviour because he knew the worker was having difficulties at home, but that it escalated into “bullying” and “harassment”.
He claimed Ms Cohen was ultimately dismissed last year for gross misconduct, which included allegedly breaching the terms of a suspension, failing to comply with parliamentary duties and sending “offensive” messages.
On one occasion, the aide copied opposition Leader Sir Keir Starmer and Labour’s general secretary David Evans into an email, calling the MP a “first-class idiot”, the tribunal heard.
“The claimant sent a number of emails… which were demeaning and derogatory towards me, as well as harassing in nature and containing threats and unfounded accusations.
“During these conversations the claimant copied in Keir Starmer and the general secretary and made abusive comments such as calling me a ‘first-class idiot’,” Mr Mahmood said.
“To further communicate this tone to the leader of the party and the general secretary was further embarrassing and humiliating.
“I believe this was done deliberately by the claimant in an attempt to ruin my reputation within the Labour Party.”
What has Elaina Cohen alleged?
At the heart of Ms Cohen’s case are three allegations she claims to have made to Mr Mahmood about a colleague, Saraya Hussain, which she says the MP did not take seriously.
The first related to an incident in which she claims Ms Hussain used Mr Mahmood’s signature on House of Commons stationery to attempt to challenge a DVLA bailiff fine she had received.
Another involved an allegation that Ms Hussain, who previously worked at a domestic violence charity, had blackmailed vulnerable women in her care.
“The allegation from Victim A included women in Saraya Hussain’s care being sexually exploited, bullied and blackmailed into crime by her… I was told Saraya Hussain had put her speeding points on the licence of a woman by blackmailing her,” Ms Cohen said in a written statement.
“Khalid knew I would not condone the employment of a criminal abuser of women in the parliamentary office or misuse of taxpayers’ money.”
Another claim relates to alleged “antisemitic” material which Ms Cohen said was shared on Facebook by Ms Hussain in July 2020.
Some of the allegations were looked into by West Midlands Police after Ms Cohen reported them, and it was concluded at the time that there was “no criminal investigation to progress”, the tribunal heard.
Ms Cohen claims the allegations she is said to have made were “protected disclosures” under whistleblowing regulations in the Employment Rights Act 1996, and that Mr Mahmood had failed to act on them properly.
She told the tribunal that when she informed her boss of the concerns, he “accused me of being jealous of Saraya Hussain”.
Detailing the background to their relationship in her statement, Ms Cohen wrote: “Within hours of his election success in 2005 Khalid informed me he didn’t want me in the office, and ended our personal relationship… I was completely blindsided.
“Khalid claimed that the breakdown in our relationship was my refusal to become a second wife with an Islamic nikah.
“Khalid had misled me into believing his previous marriages were dissolved but I discovered in 2005 this was a lie.
“I was distraught at his duplicity and his false promises of marriage to two women at the same time.”
What has Khalid Mahmood said in response to these allegations?
Mr Mahmood strenuously denies that Ms Cohen was sacked because of allegations she made about her colleague, and said he made sure a full and fair investigation was carried out into her own conduct before she was dismissed.
He has said he looked into the complaint about the alleged DVLA letter himself and found Ms Hussain was not responsible, and that he was unable to make inquiries about other allegations because they were subject to police investigation.
The MP also denied Ms Cohen’s claims about his attitude towards marriage, saying his current marriage is “formally registered”.
“I resent that kind of aspersion,” he said.
Dressed in a dark suit, Mr Mahmood rested his leg on a chair with his shoe off while Ms Cohen sat behind him and intermittently shook her head as he gave his version of events.
The hearing before employment judge Timothy Adkin at the London Central Employment Tribunal continues.
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