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May's deputy denies inappropriate sexual advance

LONDON (Reuters) - Damian Green, number two in the British government, has denied an allegation that he made an inappropriate sexual advance on a young woman as discussion about an unhealthy culture of abuse by powerful men in British politics continues to swirl.

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Green, Prime Minister Theresa May’s deputy, said it was not true that he had touched the woman’s knee and told her that his “wife was very understanding” during a meeting in a pub in which the pair discussed her career aspirations and gossiped about sexual affairs in parliament.

As the shockwaves from the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal reverberate around the world, the Westminster parliament is among institutions now facing allegations of improper behaviour by men in powerful positions.

The allegation against Green came from Kate Maltby, an academic and critic three decades younger than him. She first met him as an acquaintance of her parents, and both are involved in a liberal Conservative group called Bright Blue.

“He offered me career advice and in the same breath made it clear he was sexually interested,” Maltby wrote in an article in the Times newspaper describing the meeting in the pub in early 2015.

“It was not acceptable to me at the time and it should not be acceptable behaviour in Westminster in the future,” she said.

A spokesman for May’s Downing Street office said Green strongly denied the allegation made against him.

“The prime minister has referred the matter to the cabinet secretary to establish the facts and report back as soon as possible,” the spokesman said.

Maltby wrote that she had no contact with Green for a year after the meeting in the pub because she “wanted nothing to do with him”.

A year later, Maltby wrote an article for the Times about the history of corsets, which was published with a picture of her wearing one.

After the article appeared, she received a text message from Green that said: “Long time no see. But having admired you in a corset in my favourite tabloid I feel impelled to ask if you are free for a drink anytime?”

The Times quoted Green as saying: “It is absolutely and completely untrue that I’ve ever made any sexual advance on Ms Maltby.”

He said the allegation of the advance in the pub was deeply hurtful from someone he considered a personal friend, and that the text he sent her referring to the corset picture was sent in the spirit of friends agreeing to meet for a regular catch-up.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Guy Faulconbridge