Accused councillor Lewis Ritchie says claims are attempt to make him quit
SHELL-SHOCKED Lewis Ritchie has strenuously denied the sexual harassment claim against him as he fights for his political future.
It comes after a former SNP colleague alleges she had to fend off a semi-naked Cllr Ritchie in her bedroom.
But the 34-year-old member for Leith Walk vehemently denies that versions of events – and accuses his former party of orchestrating a political smear campaign against him.
“I’ve already denied that these leaked allegations are true,” he said.
“I can only conclude that the reason they have been made again in the press is to pressure me into resigning so that a by-election can be triggered and the SNP can regain its position as the largest party in the council.
“I do not believe that the press is the appropriate means of either making or refuting allegations such as these and I do not wish to say anymore on the matter.”
Cllr Ritchie said a police or Standards Commission for Scotland investigation would be the appropriate forum to look at the claims, rather than the media. He admits drunkenly wandering into the bedroom of a former party colleague at October’s SNP autumn conference – but denies trying to get into bed with her. Cllr Ritchie claims his version of events at the autumn conference were accepted by the party at the time – when he agreed to go on sick leave.
Three months later the party suspended Cllr Ritchie pending a formal investigation into the complaints against him, prompting him to jump ship and pledge to become an independent councillor.
That meant the SNP was no longer the biggest single party on the city council – tying with the Tories on 18 members. Last month, the SNP confirmed the sexual harassment claims against Ritchie – and a further “incident” at the party conference.
This prompted an emotional Ritchie to deny the sexual harassment allegations but admit to a drinking problem. In a tearful phone call last month, he said: “I deny all the allegations that have been made against me. However, I do recognise I have a drink problem and at times this has caused harm and upset to those who care about me and to those I wouldn’t want to cause harm.
“I consider representing my local community the greatest honour that anyone can have. I recognise I have a problem but I also believe in redemption. With the help and support of friends and family I hope to continue to do what I always wanted to do – to help people and serve my local community.”
His comments and the allegations come less than a week after council leader Adam McVey, who heads the SNP group in Edinburgh, used his Evening News column to launch an attack on Ritchie.
He said “concerns certainly remain while he is a councillor”, adding, “The concerns relating to Mr Ritchie’s behaviour will be dealt with through the appropriate channels.”
Cllr McVey went on: “On 29 January, I wrote in the Evening News that there was no room for sexual harassment in City Chambers or in any workplace in this city – I meant it. In that article I also said that ‘when a line is drawn in the sand, I stand with the women who have experienced harassment’. I meant that too.
“The duty of care to people who have committed offences may be hard to balance but is important to any process. However, we must do more to shift focus and support towards the women.”