Guardian News & Media, the publisher of the Guardian and Observer newspapers, has apologized to several women who said that one of its star columnists, Nick Cohen, groped them or made unwanted sexual advances.
The company also told staff members that it was changing how it investigates sexual harassment complaints. The apology and the policy changes follow a New York Times investigation last month in which seven women described Mr. Cohen grabbing them at pubs or in the newsroom or sending unwanted messages over the course of nearly two decades.
The Guardian’s editor in chief, Katharine Viner, and chief executive, Anna Bateson, wrote one of those women, Lucy Siegle, an email on Monday morning.
“We want to apologize for your experience of sexual harassment by an Observer member of staff, and for the way your complaint was handled,” the email said.
Ms. Siegle complained in 2018 that Mr. Cohen had grabbed her bottom in the newsroom many years earlier. She accused the newspaper of failing to act on her complaint, saying that a senior editor had instead defended Mr. Cohen.
“Everyone should feel safe at work and in the presence of their colleagues, and the incident you describe is absolutely unacceptable,” Ms. Viner and Ms. Bateson wrote.
A company spokesman said that the newspaper had sent similar apologies to several other women named in The Times’s report, most of whom had not previously come forward or filed complaints. Several of those women had said that Mr. Cohen’s actions were hardly a secret in the newsroom or the broader industry.
While the American media has publicly confronted harassment issues since the #MeToo movement, the British media has had no such reckoning.
The spokesman said the newspaper also apologized to Jean Hannah Edelstein, a former Observer assistant who told The Times that an editor slapped her with a sex whip in the newsroom and suggested she pose naked to promote her book.
Going forward, newsroom managers will no longer investigate harassment complaints themselves. “All allegations related to sexual harassment will be investigated by independent, external third parties rather than by GNM senior managers,” the company said in a message to staff obtained by The Times.
Outsiders will also handle disciplinary hearings related to any gross misconduct uncovered by those investigations, the company said.
The Guardian has appointed a consulting firm, Howlett Brown, to act as an “independent point of contact until the end of September” for anyone wishing to report any current or historic issues or “raise any concerns about GNM’s policies or culture relating to sexual harassment.” The company said that last year Howlett Brown found that overall, its policies were strong.
“I feel hugely relieved and a bit elated,” Ms. Siegle said. “It’s just a massive weight off my shoulders. I feel like I can move forward, which I haven’t been able to do for some time.”
Mr. Cohen spent two decades as a columnist for The Observer before resigning in January. He did not respond to specific accusations put to him by The Times. “I have written at length about my alcoholism. I went clean seven years ago in 2016,” he said last month. “I look back on my addicted life with deep shame.”