Daily Mail Reports Claim that Patrick Mercer MP was Attacked by Ex-Lover

Back in July, Patrick Mercer MP joked with Mail diarist Richard Kay about his ex-mistress:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer tells me he has been issued with a personal alarm system by the police to help him avoid any unwelcome approaches by his thwarted ex-lover, Commons secretary Sarah Coyle.

…While the dust settles, Mercer is off to Afghanistan to research his third novel… ‘I think I’ll be safer in Helmand Province than here,’ he quips.

This jocular tone struck me as coarsely inappropriate: if Mercer’s claim was true, he surely has to take some responsibility for triggering a mental health problem in Coyle (he had made promises to her which he then reneged on), and he ought rather to be discrete and contrite on the subject. I also noted that he previously used the label of “stalker” to smear Tim Ireland; Tim’s blogposts on Mercer’s association with self-styled “terror-trackers” were doubtless inconvenient and tiresome to the MP.

The Mail now has a follow-up piece about Coyle, with new allegations about a supposed incident in November

…Mr Mercer is considering applying for a restraining order to protect himself.

…one well-placed insider said: ‘Mrs Coyle kicked Mr Mercer in the groin and then kicked and punched him as he lay on the floor. Mr Mercer didn’t raise a hand but he was terrified.

‘The Newark MP reported the incident to Jill Pay, the Commons Serjeant-at-Arms, and called in the police on her advice.

… This newspaper has also been told that Mrs Coyle was asked by police to have no further contact with Mr Mercer, the Tory Homeland Security spokesman.

Following the incident, Mr Mercer has had CCTV fitted in his office… In addition, he carries a panic alarm linked to the nearest police station and fitted with a high-quality tape-recorder that is activated when the alarm goes off.

‘Patrick is frightened at what might happen,’ said a source. ‘He believes he is in danger and has had to protect himself. He is terrified about what Mrs Coyle maydo next.’

…Mr Mercer, the son of a former Bishop of Exeter, refused to comment. Mrs Coyle said: ‘I have nothing to say.’

This raises a number of questions. Why has Mercer had CCTV fitted already, but is still only “considering” applying for a restraining order? Why didn’t he get the restraining order back in July, when he received the alarm? Who pays for the CCTV?

And who are the “well-placed insider” and the “source”? They claim to know Mercer’s mind and give the impression of being sympathetic to him – it’s doubtful that such people would have spoken to the press without checking with Mercer first. And why was Mercer happy to joke about the situation back in July, but now has “refused to comment”? It looks very much like he’s briefing against Coyle while keeping a bit of distance. The article leaves the distasteful impression that Mercer is playing the media – and it should be recalled that other stories that Mercer has put into the media have turned out to be questionable.

Incidentally, Mercer has also been known to opine about our “our overstretched police and security services”.

FOOTNOTE: One further question I have concerns what other channels of complaint Mercer could have followed besides the Serjeant-at-Arms. Coyle works for another MP; in 2009 a Commission looked into the subject of “the Employment of Members’ Staff by the House”, including responsibility for “discipline and dismissal”. The Commission observed that:

Given the close relationship between a Member and his or her staff, it would be a difficult situation if a Member wished to dismiss but the House was not willing to endorse the dismissal. It is harder to envisage a situation in which the House wanted to dismiss a member of staff against the wishes of a Member, but it could in principle happen if a member of staff committed a serious offence such as harassment of other staff or was found not to be doing the work.

The Commission concluded that “Our preference would be for the House (or if appropriate the IPSA) instead to give greater support to Members as employers,” but that if the House wanted to go ahead, “it should not be implemented until the next general election at the earliest”.