Lib Dem MP Mike Hancock has resigned from the party to fight 'very serious allegations' about his conduct. He took the decision to do so after a meeting with the chief whip. The party this evening released a statement saying:
'Mike Hancock has chosen to resign the party whip while he defends himself against very serious allegations in a High Court civil action. Mike Hancock strenuously denies the allegations made in the civil case and intends to clear his name in court.'
In a letter to party chief whip Alistair Carmichael, Hancock wrote:
'I can assure you that I will continue to vigorously defend my position and that I completely refute the allegations made against me. I'm doing this in the best interests of the party nationally and in Portsmouth and for my family. I will continue to work hard for my constituents in Portsmouth as I have always done.'
In his reply, Carmichael said that 'if, at the end of your case, your name is cleared then I would fully expect to have you back in the parliamentary party to play again your role in the Commons'. The court case concerns a 'vulnerable' constituent who has filed papers for a civil case relating to an alleged incident in 2009.
Hancock will remain an independent MP - along with Eric Joyce and Patrick Mercer - while the case progresses. But this is one step closer to a possible by-election in Portsmouth South. James reported in March that speculation was increasing that the constituency could soon be up for grabs, and discussed that in more detail on our podcast as well, while Jonathan examined the changes of a Ukip victory in any such contest.