Poet Amy K Blakemore has accused Penguin's poetry editor Donald Futers of "assault" and criticised his employer Penguin Random House (PRH) of inaction over the incident. However, Futers, who is still employed by PRH, vehemently denies the claims.
A spokesperson for Penguin Random House said that it took the allegations "extremely seriously" and after a review was "satisfied [it] acted fairly and swiftly" and "with the utmost seriousness and diligence".
Blakemore released a statement on Twitter on Monday (7th May), explaining she met Futers at a reading in Autumn 2015, after her debut collection Humbert Summer was released by Eyewear in July 2015. A few months later, following a second reading they both attended, she said they swapped numbers with plans to meet to discuss her work. They subsequently met up, she claims, and alleges at that meeting that Futers assaulted her.
The nature of the alleged assault has not been disclosed by Blakemore, Futers or by Penguin Random House. However, Blakemore said in her statement she continued an email correspondence with Futers following the incident because she wanted "to solicit from him an admission that what had happened that night had been unacceptable and non-consensual".
Blakemore claims Futers later apologised over email in Spring 2017 "'unconditionally and unreservedly' for what had happened that night", an apology she said she "considered authentic".
But after hearing what she described as "troubling rumours regarding Donald's behaviour towards other women", she said she decided to lodge a formal complaint with Penguin Random House. She claims the publisher responded by telling her she must prove he was representing Penguin "in an official capacity" for it to act.
"I was told that unless I could prove that what happened had happened while Donald was 'representing Penguin in an official capacity' (I'm not sure exactly what this means), that there was nothing they could do"," she wrote, in the statement.
"I haven't spoken about this publicly up until now out of a desire to avoid reliving a traumatic incident - and to avoid having my work, or person, reduced to it. But it has become clear in light of recent developments that this silence is no longer tenable."
Her statement was met with support and solidarity from a number of authors, including poet and novelist Claire Askew, and was retweeted hundreds of times.
However, Futers said he has been falsely accused and the public airing of the allegations was "extremely distressing".
He told The Bookseller in a statement: "I have been made aware of publications referring to an alleged incident, said to have occurred in 2015 and involving a woman known to me at that time. The allegation has been made that I met this person on the pretext of discussing her work and assaulted her. I vehemently deny both claims. These matters have also been addressed in a separate statement by my employer. To be falsely accused and to have these matters aired in public is extremely distressing. Given the circumstances and the sensitivities surrounding these issues, I have nothing further to say at this time."
Penguin Random House said it could not divulge the details of the case, its investigation and the actions taken, but said it was satisfied the situation was handled "fairly", "swiftly" and with "diligence".
"We take the allegations extremely seriously. As a responsible employer, we have conducted a thorough investigation, taking into account all of the information available to us, from multiple sources. Having reflected on our findings, we are satisfied that we have acted fairly and swiftly," said Rebecca Sinclair, PRH UK communications director.
"This is a highly sensitive and difficult matter and the bounds of confidentiality prevent us from conveying the detail of our investigations and actions but we want to be clear that we have treated the situation with the utmost seriousness and diligence."
PRH chief executive Tom Weldon circulated an email with the same statement to staff with the additional explanation it "would be wrong - and inappropriate - for us to comment in detail or get drawn on any specific element of the investigation".
"As a responsible employer, Penguin Random House does not - and will not - tolerate any kind of inappropriate sexual behaviour. Additionally every individual is entitled to fair, dignified and respectful treatment," he said.
Weldon added of the “somewhat formal” statement and why PRH could not explain in detail how it approached the “complicated investigation....Please do not interpret that silence as anything other than a respect for the dignity and privacy of those involved."
The results of a sexual harrassment survey conducted by The Bookseller last year showed over half of 388 women respondents had experienced harassment within the trade.
It has been six months since trade bodies the Association of Authors' Agents (AAA), Publishers Association (PA) and Society of Authors (SoA) publicly pledged to tackle the issue together. According to the AAA's president Lizzy Kremer, industry guidelines on the issue of sexual harrassment will now be ready within the coming weeks.
"The process of putting together a set of guidelines on this matter that the whole industry feels ownership over has so far been rigorous, stimulating and promising. There are many individuals within the publishing industry who care deeply about eliminating abuses of power, lack of diversity and harassment of all kinds," Kremer told The Bookseller.
"We hope not only to be done with the drafting of the document but also to be through the process of obtaining the endorsement of industry bodies in the next few weeks."