The conduct of Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Contents

Chapter 6: Complaint by Christian Bombolo: account of the key facts and evidence

Christian Bombolo’s complaint

110.On 20 January, Christian Bombolo wrote to me to complain about the conduct of Lord Maginnis during an incident on 7 January at an entrance to the parliamentary estate when Mr Bombolo was on duty as the security officer at that post.

111.Mr Bombolo wrote that Lord Maginnis arrived at the entrance and “vehemently asked me to let him in”. Lord Maginnis informed him that he did not have his parliamentary pass with him. In accordance with procedures, Mr Bombolo therefore explained that Lord Maginnis would need to go to the Pass Office to be issued with a temporary pass before entering the estate.

112.At this point Lord Maginnis became “very aggressive and began to utter threats”, saying “You have to open this entrance now, I’m late, you don’t know whom I am? I’ve been working here for 46 years, you have to let me in now.”

113.Mr Bombolo described remaining calm and professional but continuing to explain that Lord Maginnis would need to get a day pass from the Pass Office before he could be allowed onto the estate. Lord Maginnis then became “even more aggressive and started literally by insulting me using the word crooked and shouting, abusing and intimidating me”.

114.At this point Hannah Bardell MP also intervened to talk to Lord Maginnis. This is described further in Chapter 7.

115.Mr Bombolo called for the support of his superiors who came to the entrance, as did another police officer on duty.

116.Following Ms Bardell’s Point of Order in the Commons Chamber about this incident, both she and Lord Maginnis were approached by the press. Lord Maginnis was reported by the HuffPost to have called Mr Bombolo “a ‘little git’ who was being a ‘jobsworth’.”

117.Mr Bombolo concluded his complaint by saying:

“For doing my job I am being treated this way this is unacceptable and such treatment comes from a legislator and person with authority.

I feel humiliated, worthless. I lost my esteem, my dignity and above all this is an international matter now as all the media talks about it.

I strongly consider that all the elements of bulling and harassment in the work are established in this case I therefore asking for justice.”

Lord Maginnis’s evidence

118.Mr Scott and I carried out a preliminary assessment and concluded that it would be appropriate to investigate whether Lord Maginnis’s conduct constituted a breach of the Code of Conduct. I wrote to Mr Bombolo with information about my next steps. I also wrote to Lord Maginnis on 24 January 2020, enclosing the complaint from Mr Bombolo and explaining that, as a result of my preliminary assessment I had concluded that there was sufficient evidence to establish there was a prima facie case to be investigated.

119.I asked Lord Maginnis to send me a full and accurate account of the matter in question.

120.Lord Maginnis replied, “I begin to wonder how and more significantly WHY so much official time is being spent over the selfish and malicious allegations made by this strange woman Bardell!”

121.He also provided a copy of an email exchange he had had with the Lord Speaker about the incident that had led to Mr Bombolo’s complaint.

122.In his email to the Lord Speaker he said he was “somewhat surprised at the lengths to which officers and officials are going to augment the lies, half-truths and gross exaggerations of a certain Scots Nationalist.” He referred to ongoing medical conditions and his background in Parliament and the military.

123.He said:

“I have already spoken to the leader in the Commons who, while not condoning my admittedly bad temper on that occasion, tells me that he does not wear his pass nor expect to be frustrated by security personnel. He acknowledged that he did know who I was. Neither does it appear in the security guards report that both [two other parliamentarians] intervened on my behalf and were blatantly ignored.

Neither has it been acknowledged that because of my leg/feet problem I am unable to balance to bend over to extract anything from my case - there is neither chair nor table in the little lobby to assist one in that task.

The partial complaint by the security chap - assisted, I suspect, by Ms Bardell - included the same error she made when she sought to publicise herself by her statement in the Commons that I had claimed to have been in Parliament for ‘46 years’! If I’d referred to such a fact it would have been ‘over 36 years’. I may be somewhat infirm but this ex-school principal can still count!”

124.Complaints about bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct remain confidential until any report is published. Any letter from the Lord Speaker was therefore unrelated to my investigation.

125.I wrote again to Lord Maginnis to ask for his formal response to Mr Bombolo’s complaint. Lord Maginnis replied to say that he had “nothing further to add, although I would be interested to learn whether the security officer’s remarkably one-sided version of the incident was made subsequent to that out-of-order ‘performance’ in the Commons by Ms Bardell.”

126.Mr Scott and I interviewed Lord Maginnis on 3 March, with Mr Whittle attending.

127.In our discussion about Mr Bombolo’s complaint, Lord Maginnis began by saying “I have a bad temper. Yes, I have.” He went on to explain his recollection of the incident:

“I came from Northern Ireland, flew across to London City, got the tube, come into Westminster and then had to walk from the tube up to where I enter the security area. When I arrive at the outside door I always ring the bell because I’m not good at going through the tight [doors]—especially when I’m tired. Perhaps I should say I have had a hip replacement. They want me to have the other hip done; I haven’t made a decision on that yet because my real problem comes from displaced bones in my lower back. I have had three spinal decompressions: one when I was 42, one when I was 60 and one when I was 65, so I have been in considerable pain for a fair number of years. I’m now 82.

I arrived, pressed the bell and noticed this lady had been pressing the bell and hadn’t been able to get in, so I pressed the bell. Eventually the door opened and I ushered her in. I said, ‘You first’, and she said—I didn’t know who she was—she said, ‘No, you go on’. So I went in, walked across to the other door which they open. It’s a very confined—I’m sure you know—but it’s a fairly confined space. He said, ‘Have you got your pass?’ I [said] ‘Oh, sorry, I haven’t. It’s in my case’, or words to that effect. ‘Well, I need to see it’. At that stage—I don’t remember verbatim what actually happened, but at that stage I would have probably said, ‘Do you not recognise me?’, but I remember him at some stage saying, ‘Yes, I know you, but I need to see your pass’. I said, ‘Well, it’s in my case and I can’t get it out of my case’. I didn’t at that time explain why I couldn’t get it out of the case.

This is the second time this has happened to me, by the way, at that particular entrance. There was no complaint, that I’m aware of, on the last occasion where somebody—I don’t know his name, he was [security officer number] on his shoulder—did much the same thing and insisted. I said to him, ‘Look, I can’t bend over. I’ve got no balance’. You will hear [demonstration made by hitting leg]. I’m dependent on leg and foot braces on both legs because I’m diabetic, have been since I was 49. I’m insulin dependent, but gradually I have lost the feeling in my feet and legs, with the result that I can’t balance. I don’t need a stick for walking—well, I do but I can walk without a stick, but I need a stick for balancing because with no sensation where your feet are you will understand how difficult it is.

So I said to him, ‘Look, you have no table to sit. You have no table or chair that I can set this case on’, words to that effect. ‘You will have to do without it’, or words to that effect. He was quite stubborn. I can’t remember verbatim what he said or what I said, but at one stage I remember saying to him, ‘So you are just being awkward’. I was getting—I was in some discomfort and fairly cross.

With that, [two other parliamentarians] appeared. Now, I can’t remember whether they were going in or out. I didn’t think I would be accounting for this a couple of months later. They came in and they said, ‘He’s okay, he belongs to our House. He’s okay’. The chap ignored them, which didn’t make me any happier.

“I would never be noted for my good temper or—I’m not bad-tempered normally, but when the old temper goes I—you know, I’ve got my chin on the front row of the scrum. In the time I served in Northern Ireland—on top of that I don’t like being embarrassed by somebody, for the sake of being bloody-minded, who thinks he can make an example of me. At this stage the lady intervened a couple of times. I didn’t pay any attention to her at all, didn’t know who she was from Adam. I just had no idea who she was.

Eventually, somebody came in and spoke to me and—I don’t remember, I can’t remember—and I said—at this time I was leaning against—because, as I explained, when I’m static I have to lean against something. Eventually—I don’t know what he said, I couldn’t quite pick it up with all the hubbub and people were waiting to get through—he opened the door and let me through.”

128.We asked Lord Maginnis whether he considered that he had been rude or aggressive to Mr Bombolo:

Lord Maginnis: “Well, I wouldn’t be intentionally rude. I suppose it’s my I’m an old village schoolmaster: I tend to say things that I want to be understood and that I want other people to understand. If that appears I think I speak fairly clearly, so if that appears to be aggressive I do apologise, but it’s the nature of the beast.

Mr Scott: Did you shout during the exchange?

Lord Maginnis: I don’t need to shout, with my voice. As you can hear, I don’t need to shout. I am fairly good at I always spoke to the back seat in the classroom.”

129.He recalled saying something along the lines of “You’re being crooked” and “You’re being awkward” and said “If that’s shouting, yes, I shouted, but I don’t think you would call that shouting.”

130.He clarified that by “crooked” he meant “Somebody who is … frustrating in their attitude.”

131.We asked how the incident progressed and whether he recalled getting increasingly angry:

“I don’t think you need to ask that. The answer is yes, of course I was. … I was particularly irate when Mr Bombolo ignored [other parliamentarian] was very annoyed. [Other parliamentarian] came to me afterwards and said, ‘Look, if there are any problems I’m here to help you’. He would show his emotions more than [another parliamentarian]. [Another parliamentarian] would try to dive into obscurity, but the two of them were there and they were ignored.”

132.Lord Maginnis also explained that he considered Mr Bombolo’s actions to have been influenced by a “row” Lord Maginnis had had with another member of staff previously in which he was “rude to him” and “used an expression to describe him to himself that I rather regret”.

133.He said that he did not think that Mr Bombolo was simply following procedures by refusing him entry to the estate, but thought he was being “bloody-minded”. He said that there had been “the odd occasion” where he had forgotten his pass. In those previous occasions he said:

“I come and I will say to somebody, ‘Would you let me get up in the lift’, and they come and they use their pass. They never say, ‘Where’s your pass, Ken?’ When I came here today, nobody asked me for my pass. I’m not here—it is maybe a year since I was in this building. I come in, ‘How are you doing, chaps?’ There I was, I came to the front door and until I sat down here nobody asked me for my pass. … So there is no consistency”.

134.We asked Lord Maginnis to clarify whether he had his pass with him, or whether it was just in his case and inaccessible at that time. Lord Maginnis confirmed that the pass had been in his “little wheelie case”. He would usually have worn it “underneath my tie or tucked into the buttons on my shirt” but had forgotten to put it on that day.

135.We asked whether there may have been any misunderstanding between him and Mr Bombolo about whether he had his pass at all, or simply did not have access to it there and then as it was in his case. Lord Maginnis said:

“no, I doubt it, because I told him I can’t bend down to my case. As I said—not that he would have known what I meant, but I would have said, ‘and you still haven’t a table there’, because the last time I went through it was exactly the same thing as with [member of staff he had previously had a row with].”

136.Lord Maginnis spoke at length about his medical condition and the fact that he is frequently in pain. He said, “I’m as mentally alert as I was 40 years ago, but I’m physically a bit of a wreck” and that being in pain made him liable to becoming frustrated in the face of difficulties.

137.He also noted that when there was background noise he could not hear well and that “vanity does not allow me to wear my hearing aid”. Because of this, he was not certain what had been said to him by other staff who attended the incident. However, when one member of staff had arrived he had opened one of the doors and Lord Maginnis entered the estate.

138.We asked Lord Maginnis to confirm whether reports of his having referred to Mr Bombolo as a “jobsworth” and “little git” to HuffPost were accurately reported. He said, “I wouldn’t have a clue. It sounds like me”, describing the terms as “this old village schoolmaster’s everyday language.” However, he agreed that such terms were “[a]bsolutely not” appropriate language for a member of the House to use to describe a member of staff.

139.We discussed how his conduct during this incident related to the Behaviour Code and the power relationship between him as a member of the House and Mr Bombolo as a member of staff. Lord Maginnis said that he had always seen himself as “having responsibility rather than having power” and that there had not been a disparity of power in his favour during that incident. Rather, Lord Maginnis contended, Mr Bombolo had been in a more powerful position than him because “he was the person who was able, when I was in pain—he was the person who was able to frustrate me”. He argued that Mr Bombolo could have let him through without his pass, as had been his experience before, but that Mr Bombolo chose not to and that therefore it was Mr Bombolo that had bullied him.

140.He said he had “no war” with Mr Bombolo and that “I don’t have that much of a guilty conscience about anything that has happened.” He said:

“I’m sorry Bombolo and I had a confrontation. I think it was unnecessary. My experience is, again and again and again and again over the years, that it was unnecessary but, you know, I’m not going to I went to the Lord Speaker and said I have no intention of apologising to anybody. If that chap wants to exchange apologies then I could rise to that, but I was the one who was made an idiot of and I resent that having happened.”

141.Lord Maginnis was dismissive of the Behaviour Code and indicated that he had not read it but that “I know what good behaviour is … I have survived in this life for 82 years and I was brought up to respect people and so on. I was also probably brought up not to let my bone go with the dog.”6

142.At several points in my investigation, Lord Maginnis queried whether Mr Bombolo had been supported or encouraged in writing his complaint. In our interview on 3 March he said:

“Who actually scripted this for him, or who prompted him, or how did we come to get this rather formal language from him? It wasn’t spontaneous, obviously.”

143.He said “I would love to know who helped dictate his statement” because both Mr Bombolo’s complaint and Hannah Bardell’s complaint included a reference to him having said he had been in Parliament for 46 years, though he only became an MP in 1983 and had therefore been in Parliament for 36 years.

144.In an email of 17 May, he wrote “One thing I’d like to know - did Bardell approach the security chap, prompt his complaint and assist him to write it. He may have had some grounds for complaint but his report is inaccurate, which makes me suspicious.”

Christian Bombolo’s evidence

145.We interviewed Mr Bombolo in May. We asked him to set out his account of the incident on 7 January:

“I was posted in Subway and then, you know, people was coming in as normal. They were coming from Subway. People normally use the pass and then the PIN number to get into the Estate. So that day, you know, I saw a gentleman turn up, you know, and then he asked me to open the gate for him, I mean, the glass door for him. I say, ‘According to our policy, sir, I can’t open the door for you. Can you just use your pass, please?’ And then he say, ‘Please open the door. I have to go in’. I say, ‘Oh, I appreciate’. I said, ‘Just let me know why you cannot use your pass then’. He say, ‘Oh, I don’t have my pass. I don’t have my pass with me. I don’t have my pass. Please let me in. I have to go’. And then he said, you know, ‘D’you know who I am?’ I say, ‘Whoa. I don’t know specifically who you are but —’, and he say, ‘I’m a Lord’. And then he introduced himself. I say, ‘That’s fair enough. That’s no problem, sir. No worries, you can come in but you can’t, you know, use this entrance. The best thing you can do is to go to [the Pass Office] and then there they’re going to issue, you know, a daily pass and then you can enter the premises, no issue at all’.

He say, ‘No! Please open the door. I don’t want you — You know, you don’t know who I am, you know? What you doing now?’ And then he was, you know, getting a big aggressive, you know? It was a bit aggressive. And then behind that gentleman was a lady. And then a lady was there. And then that lady said it to him, ‘Why don’t you just observe what the Officer telling you because, you know, he’s here to protect us? So why are you not —’. And then he turned to that lady and then … he said, ‘No! Who are you to tell me that? Is this man here to let me in because I have to —?’ And then he was even ballistic towards that woman. And then the lady say, ‘Oh, no, you’re just — you know, we’re here — he’s here to do his job. Why you being like that to him?’ And then all of a sudden this police officer turn up as well. And then because it was, you know, getting a little bit hot in that area.

And then the police turn up. And I explained the situation to the police officer. I say, ‘Okay, this gentleman he want to get in but I’m not prepared to let him in because he doesn’t have his pass. I advised him to go to the [Pass Office]. He refused to go. And then he was shouting at me and then he was telling me a lot more stuff’, you know? If you want to get more detail on that, just go back to my report. And then I’ve decided to phone my supervisors, you know, the managers. And then I’ve called my managers. Two managers turn up on the site — on the scene and they were speaking to him. And then they asked me to open the door for him and I opened the door. And then that was the end of the story.

But he was shouting at me. He was very aggressive, abusive. He was telling me a lot of thing. And then I — and after a few time I just noticed that the lady in question, it was an MP. I think it was Hannah [Bardell]. And then they raised the issue in the Chamber. She wasn’t happy about what happened in the situation and all that. Then after that, you know, again, they went again into media, you know, telling me I’m a ‘Jobsworth’ who was just — why I didn’t allow him in, you know, and then all that kind of thing.”

146.Mr Bombolo said that Lord Maginnis was angry from the beginning of their exchange. He said, “he was already in a very bad, bad — very bad mood, you know. Because when he entered the thing was telling me, “I don’t have my pass with me. Open this door for me. Open it”.”

147.Mr Bombolo said that the incident lasted for around ten minutes. He decided to call his supervisor after Lord Maginnis “went ballistic” towards Hannah Bardell and the police officer who also attended the scene.

148.We asked Mr Bombolo if he had known who Lord Maginnis was when the incident occurred. Mr Bombolo said that he “recognised him as someone I know by face” but did not know he was a member of the House.

149.We spoke about whether Mr Bombolo had the discretion to let people onto the estate without their passes. Mr Bombolo said the main priority of his role was to “protect the Estate and the people”. He explained that earlier that week he and his colleagues had received an email from the Parliamentary Security Director urging staff to be vigilant about access to the estate and at that time senior managers were also on duty on the estate to ensure security measures were being properly implemented. These matters were therefore fresh in his mind.

150.He explained that it was not particularly unusual for someone to arrive without their pass and that on occasion people have become frustrated or upset, but not to the extent he experienced with Lord Maginnis:

“The normal reaction for that person is, ‘Oh, goodness me. What shall I do now?’ And you know, he’s really upset, but not very angry or aggressive. But when you explain the situation to the person they say, ‘No, don’t worry’, You know, ‘You want to get in, no issue, but not from here. Go in [the pass office]. They are going to give you a pass’. And most of the time people are happy to do that, to [to the pass office] and enter without any issue.

But some people they are a little bit upset, not aggressive, no, not aggressive, not telling you, ‘Do you know who I am?’ and all that kind of — I never come across that attitude before, someone telling me, ‘Do you know who I am? I been here such-and-such a long time’. No. You know, normally, as human beings you’re going to be a little bit upset about, oh, someone preventing you to get in; fair enough. But it’s never escalated to that point that people being, you know, people coming in to intervene, police officer, managers. I never come across that before, no.”

151.As Lord Maginnis had said in his interview with us that he had had his pass in his case, we asked Mr Bombolo if he had known that Lord Maginnis had his pass but was simply not able to access it:

“No. He didn’t make that known to me at all. … Because if he made that known to me at that point, it would be very, very easy, you know, because I would trust him and I would call my Manager just to clarify that ‘I’ve got a Lord in here. You know, he’s telling me, he’s stating that he has his pass in his bag’. So that would be absolutely easy to, you know, to look after him. And then if he went to me in a very calm manner, in a very polite manner, considering that what we’re doing is vital for everyone, the matter would be very easy to, you know, to diffuse, to, you know, solve.”

152.We asked Mr Bombolo what the impact of the incident had been on him. He said he had been “treated like … less than nothing, very humiliated, very anxious about what happened.”

153.He said the way the incident had been escalated by Lord Maginnis’s comments in the press had had a particular impact:

“after the incident happened Lord Maginnis, instead of just, you know, finishing there because the situation escalated in the Chamber and then all that kind of thing, everyone was talking about that. And then he went on again on public media to call me names, ‘Jobsworth’, for instance. And then people was calling me all over the country. Then one of my colleagues, for instance, he was in Ireland, and then his dad call him from Ireland telling him, ‘What happened in the Houses of Parliament then? Why your, you know, Lords, you know, conducting themself in that manner?’ So from Ireland and then people was talking about the incident.”

154.The incident and the comments in the press had left him feeling exposed, unprotected and uncertain at work. He considered taking time off work because of it. He said he felt “very humiliated”.

155.In the longer term, he had found himself second guessing himself at work, because he doesn’t know “what kind of reaction I’m going to get from people.” He had been left feeling apprehensive about other interactions with people, saying that if a similar situation arose again “that would destroy me completely … if it happen again, it’s going to be very destructive towards my health”.

156.He also said:

“I’m a well educated person, you know. I have a Masters’ degree in Criminology. So I value my job. It’s not because I’m a Security Officer, you know. I like what I’m doing because it’s a very high-ranked area, you know, place to work. You know, you’re meeting with decision-makers and all that. So I value my job. I love what I’m doing.

So having this kind of a situation with Lord Maginnis, it was a bit putting me off about, ‘Shall I continue or not?’, or ‘What shall I do now? Why I’m no, you know, valued? Why’s all this situation happened?’ So, you know, I asked myself a lot of questions, Lucy, to be very frank to you and very honest.”

Other evidence

157.Following our interviews with Mr Bombolo and Lord Maginnis, we spoke to one of the other parliamentarians Lord Maginnis said had been at the incident (we were not able to speak to the other parliamentarian). However, he did not believe he had seen the incident in question. He said:

“I really knew very little about what had happened. All I can remember was he could not get through. He, I suppose, was taking offence that he had been a Member of the House–- I am just trying to remember when, but I suppose he came in, in the Commons perhaps in the ’80s, I think probably around that time, so he had been a Member of the House for nearly 40 years. I am not sure what the exact–- you would know that better than me. I think he felt he ought to be recognised and did not fancy the suggestion that he was being invited to go right round to the Pass Office if he had not got his pass with him to get something that would bring him through the gate. … I may have made some throwaway line, but I think that was about the end of it. I think then I moved on.”

158.In his interview Mr Bombolo had referred to instructions he and his colleagues receive. We asked the security department for a copy of these. The Head of Security Operations provided documentation and summarised his expectations of procedures to be followed by security officers as:

159.We spoke to Hannah Bardell MP about her complaint (see fuller details in the next chapter). This interview also included a description of the events at the entrance to Parliament. She said:

“it was my, you know, first day back in Parliament after Christmas; as I have said in my statement, I came you know, I was behind Lord Maginnis. I wasn’t aware of who he was at the time; I had never encountered this individual, didn’t know who he was, and, you know, the aggression that came from him almost straightaway when he was challenged by the security guard, you know, caused me to first of all physically step back because he was his physical presence was such that, you know, he is quite a small person but quite a broad person, he was waving his arms, he was sort of gesticulating and just really raising his voice and being very aggressive. And for anybody who uses that entrance, you will know it is a very small space.

As it escalated, you know, he got more and more aggressive and when I stepped in, I was fearful I was scared to step in, I was scared to challenge him but I felt I had to because, you know, he didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know who he was but none the less I have a position of privilege and power in my place of work and I felt it was appropriate for me to use that, although I wasn’t actually using that, I was just, as far as he was concerned, a bystander, a person coming in behind him.”

160.We attempted to speak to the other parliamentarian and the other member of staff Lord Maginnis referred to but, despite several attempts, were unable to make contact and arrange interviews. These attempts took place during the COVID-19 lockdown.

161.As Ms Bardell was referenced in each of the complaints made, not only her own, I provided her with the factual reports of each complaint. In her response to the factual report relating to Mr Bombolo’s complaint she said that Lord Maginnis’s suspicion that she had coached Mr Bombolo was “wholly untrue and completely inaccurate”. She said that she “did not know the name of the security guard or have any contact with him until after he had given his evidence to the Commissioner”. She said that the only contact she had had with him after the incident was a chance encounter on the parliamentary estate. She said Lord Maginnis’s suggestion was “completely ridiculous”.

Findings of fact

162.Christian Bombolo’s account is corroborated by other evidence gathered, not least by Lord Maginnis’s written and oral evidence.

163.Lord Maginnis’s comments to the HuffPost are a matter of public record.

164.I therefore find that Christian Bombolo’s account is more likely than not to be accurate.

6 We understood this phrase to mean not to let others take advantage.

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