22 Feb 2010

Christine Pratt ‘still vague’ on Downing Street bullying claims

I have just been interviewing Christine Pratt of the National Bullying Helpline.

The patron Professor Cary Cooper, who resigned from her charity this morning, had been in contact with her a couple of times yesterday, she said, and was unhappy with the breach of confidentiality involved in giving interviews about people from specific offices.

She is still a bit vague about just how many complaints came through to her organisation from No. 10. 

She insists she took one personal call from someone and did an “audit trail” to prove they genuinely worked directly for Gordon Brown

She repeated her allegation that she had also taken calls from two people who work “in the deputy prime minister’s office” in “the last eighteen months.”

I asked if she accepted that there hadn’t been a deputy prime minister since the summer of 2007 when John Prescott stood down from the job. She seemed not to have realised that but repeated the allegation.

I asked if she had received any complaints from people working for David Cameron or Nick Clegg and she said a categorical “no.”

She then told me as she was leaving that “of course, I can’t know that because all our callers have confidential calls that stay confidential.” 

This is all a sort of gift to No. 10, but the row itself about the National Bullying Helpline keeps damaging stories about Gordon Brown in the headlines even if it suggests that some of the allegations, at least, may not be watertight.

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44 reader comments

  1. Mark W says:

    Perhaps you should have asked her whether she ever had any complaints against Andy Coulson? http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/nov/23/andy-coulson-now-bullying-payout

  2. fred lewis says:

    Is Cooper’s resignation damage limitation?


    What is the difference between a patron and a trustee?

  3. tanya spooner says:

    As you point out, Gary, Christine Pratt has badly discredited herself. It is essential NEVER to give confidential information of this kind out to anyone, let alone the media. I can’t see how this helpline can continue when such an important boundary has been breached. You will be aware that it came out in a BBC interview this morning that Ms Pratt is also involved in an advice-giving private business. I find it disturbing that there should be a link between what is described as a National Helpline and somebody running a commercial enterpise for advice-giving.

  4. carl creaney says:

    She should be sacked, or step down, this is nothing more than a politcal attack on Gordan Brown

  5. Neil says:

    This doesn’t add anything to the debate – can journalist’s look into the “political neutral” nature of this “charity” with its 2/5 tory patronage and comments of endorsement by D. Cameron. Additionally the link to the private firm that the Pratts run that seem to take referrals from the helpline – 15 mins on the net by me show that the private company recommend employees to ring the charity helpline (strange referring clients away from their business unless they know it will come back to them). The helpline then says if you want to be referred they work with 5 HR professionals that are all FCIPD qualified. The private company have 5 HR professionals listed – the Pratts and 2 others who from a quick google are FCIPD and 1 other that I cannot say one way or the other has 20 years HR exp so may be the fifth FCIPD??? Now it maybe the helpline provides an important impartial service to bullied employees, or it could be a useful “front” to refer business to a profit making business run by C Pratt herself who’s to say.
    Yes investigate if G Brown/his staff bully people – but please can we look a little more heavily into those that make allegations?

  6. Max Milne says:

    This woman’s story appears to be a poor attempt at a politically motivated smear. Which begs the question, if the story can’t be substantiated, why are Cameron and Clegg calling for an enquiry? Pathetic.

  7. Anthony Lawton says:

    This may be a ‘sort of gift’ to Number 10, but it is not a gift to the world of helplines, and counselling-and-advisory services. Would-be clients and callers may doubt they can trust other services that offer confidentiality, not just this one. Some clients of other services may be made unnecessarily anxious about promoses of confidentiality from charities and services that can be trusted, always.

    I am not of the poliitcal or journalistic world; I do however expect journalists (cf BBC reports yesterday) to establish the bona fides and credibility of sources, and help me understand directly what weight I might give to comments made and publicised. The most cursory look at the website of this charity/helpline, and at the Charities register, as the absence of a kite-mark from the national Helplines Assoc should at least have raised questions in reporters’ minds?

    Your report of her throw away remark about confidentiality so at odds with her bhaviour (re No 10) only adds to the picture of a very unprofessional source and to-be-doubted source of comment.

  8. Alan Hillfern says:

    The complainantt might of course have been justly and reasonably hauled over the carpet for bad work or bad behaviour, so then being angry at his own failure he might have deflected his anger from himself towards his superiors.
    Has Miss Pratt investigated the complaints ? Has she convincing evidence of the PM’s guilt ? Is it normal procedure to go to the Press with such complaints ? Has she approached the PM’s secretary or office manager ? How does she normally deal with such matters ?

  9. adrian clarke says:

    I noticed Mandelson’s support of Brown did not say he didnt shout at or was not abusive to staff.So reading between the lines we can asume he is just a loud mouthed bully , and like most bullies in reality is not very effective or efficient and lacks the temperament to run the country

  10. Meg Howarth says:

    Seems Ms Pratt (… by name … ), too, should consider her position. Not too bright by the sound of things given her conflicted views about confidentiality. Stopped reading the Observer a long time ago so unable to comment on Andrew Rawnsley and the pre-election publication of his book.

  11. Anthony Lawton says:

    .. and one more thing … having watched the video clip of the interview on your site…she seems not to understand that the promise of ‘confidentiality’ is not just about not contacting a caller’s employer; it is about doing nothing to reveal the existence or nature of any call or caller, such that the caller could think ‘oh tht’s me’ and/or any other party could begin to track them down or associate behaviour and thoughts and feelings with a particular individual.

  12. Pat says:

    Brown’s behavior seems more suitable to that of a third world dictator, not the prime minister of a democratic country. Unfortunately, as Brown demonstrates, there are toxic bosses everywhere. The best way to avoid bad bosses is to check on sites like eBossWatch and see what their employees really think about them.

    1. adrian clarke says:

      Pat that is because he isn’t a democratically elected prime minister.He is an ignorant dictator whose own position is more important to himself than his country

  13. Lee Moore says:

    So the non-political CEO of the National Bullying Helpline not only violates the discretion expected by callers, but she essentially snoops on them by doing audit trails? This story just gets better and better.

    1. Meg Howarth says:

      And worse: seems callers to Ms Pratt’s anti-bullying helpline are referred to a consultancy run by her husband and herself, for profit (see the Daily Telegraph). Ms Pratt looks increasingly like an unpleasant politically motivated animal.

  14. Lou Rossati says:

    Interesting…when is a confidential helpline not a confidential helpline? When it’s abused by its CE for political purposes.

    Doesn’t Christine Pratt realise the damage she’s done to her organisation?
    I’d certainly be loathe to call that helpline now, even if I desperately needed it.

    This is just a pathetic attempt at character assassination. There are a lot of people working at No. 10. Admittedly, it can’t be an easy environment to work in – but that doesn’t mean that Gordon Brown is the cause of bullying.

    Pratt by name and by nature, by the look of it…

  15. Graham says:

    How long before stories of Cameron’s alleged temper emerge?

  16. Steve Willis says:

    This is an appalling breach of confidentiality which will discourage victims of bullying from coming forward. Ms. Pratt should be sacked.

    However, I have seen a culture of bullying in one Government Agency where the behaviour of a senior manager was raised as an issue. Nothing was done, other than to blacklist the person making the complaint. Eventually, the behaviour of the bully contributed to causing a breakdown of a member of her staff.

    I think things would be helped if all complaints of bullying were dealt with by an independent 3rd party where strictest confidentiality and objective investigation was the standard.

    1. adrian clarke says:

      Steve stop breaking a cofidence.

    2. adrian clarke says:

      Of course Mrs Pratt was in breach of confidientiality and should go.However consider this School bullying is dangerous and yet when reported is rarely properly dealt with.Bullying higher up in work etc is just as bad and the culprits get away with it until someone has a breakdown or commits suicide or is forced from their jobs.The bully frequently get away without penalty to continue .There would not be a need for a help line were this not so.You can not get any higher in the bullying stakes than the prime minister.He should not be allowed to get away with it if there is even a semblance of truth.

  17. Alan Burr says:

    Graham wrote:

    How long before stories of Cameron’s alleged temper emerge?

    I did a google search and found the following (btw they were only the top two on the list:

    Has Cameron got a bit of temper on him?


    Mr Cockerell says that while Mr Cameron “presents himself as being caring and ecologically friendly”, he was “told by a number of those who worked with him that in private he had a strong temper”.

    There is a world of difference between a temper and a bully and I think there is little doubt that Brown has a temper…but a bully…I don’t think so

  18. Tony Bennett says:

    Well spotted, Gary – the Deputy PM comment is very odd. It’s hard not to suspect political motivation in Christine Pratt’s outrageous behaviour. Rarely have I seen such an unprincipled rush by respected journalistic organisations – the BBC, Observer, Guardian – to dignify an unsubstantiated story in this way.

    1. adrian clarke says:

      Tony your politics are awry .The BBC,Guardian and Observer are all left wing organisations but maybe the Observer has a different agenda as it published the Rawnsley book that first detailed the alleged bullying.I have heard little criticism of the book or for that matter denial.As for the deputy prime minister, i and probably many others would say there is one in all but name ,and that is Mandelson

  19. Aren says:

    I was naturally perturbed when hearing of Mrs Prattt’s volunteered statements – following on from Rawnsley’s book in which he discloses the PM’s bad temper, sourced impeccably! Foremost, is the concern that anyone would now have serious concerns about contacting the Helpline – funded by exemptions from general taxation. Mrs Pratt’s unashamed current defence of her outburst collides with any trust in the notion of confidentiality, upon which those abused would heavily rely. Moreover, this ‘charity’ seems to be allied to her Private Consultancy, run with her husband, which feeds business from the Helpline for commercial gain. Mrs Pratt, has now, if the allegations be true, helped disclose those who might have used the Helpline – and even on this she seems so flaky: ‘ … 3 OR 4’ complainants – ‘I shall need to check with my helpers …’ ‘ … complaints from the Deputy PM’s office in the last 18 months …’ even though the office ceased to exist some 3 years ago! It is said that it is well known in journalistic circles that Rawnsley ‘… hates Gordon Brown …’ A conjunction in the serialisation of his book and Mrs Pratt’s repetition of apparently opaque allegations?

  20. the orange party says:

    Is this the same prof Cooper who headed up the government’s Sunningdale Institute of the National School of Government with the head of the civil service as president?

    Is this the same PPS Snelgrove who had a spat with Pratt with a reputation for “unflagging ministerial loyalty” who was awarded Private Eye’s Brown Nose award after praising Prescott to the hilt following his affair?

    Too much spinning. Too much Brown sauce. Not much common sense. And allegations of workplace bullying still not investigated.

    What a tangled web they all weave?


  21. Anthony Lawton says:

    And another trustee has resigned! I have become mildly obsessed by this story, three comments in one day….http://blogs.ft.com/westminster/2010/02/exclusive-another-resignation-from-the-anti-bullying-charity/

    1. Meg Howarth says:

      Wonder what role the blogs have had to play in the apparently well-deserved fall of this ‘charity’ house of cards (as Aren, above, points out: exempt from general taxation)? Or was Ann Widdecombe’s resignation prompted by the Telegraph’s unfavourable portrayal of the Pratts? Viewers of tonight’s Ch4 news will also have noted that a young singer (?) denied that she had ever given her support to what sounds like an increasingly unsavoury set-up. And last but not least: what was the Law Society doing in OKing the arrangement between the Pratt’s consultancy and the NBH? Haven’t had time to research the outfit today but its origins surely make for relevant journalistic enquiry.

  22. Wilma Miller says:

    Surely the whole point is that Andrew Rawnsley is a reputable journalist who wouldn’t make allegations without real sources.This woman is a diversion.

    1. Graham says:

      Rawnsley has a book to sell, and it has a short shelf life.

  23. John Ray says:

    The actions of this women are outrageous, even if the stories were true, what does she not understand about the meaning of confidential? I think a lot more will come to light about her real motives over the coming days.

  24. Ray Turner says:

    I find it slightly strange that anybody in charge of a national helpline on a subject as sensitive as bullying would say what she has said without there being some truth behind it. There’s no smoke without fire, no matter how much cold water Labour try to pour over it…….

    1. Lee Moore says:

      Don’t you also find strange her claims that employees in the Deputy Prime Minister’s office telephoned regarding bullying last year… considering there hasn’t been a Deputy Prime Minister’s office since John Prescott left the post in June 2007?

      Don’t get me started on the mindset that clings to the no smoke without fire cliché… and don’t ever serve on a jury with that attitude, eh?

  25. Ray Turner says:

    I see the rebuttal unit have been in action again…

    Gordon Brown has been the worst Prime Minister (and Chancellor) we’ve had since Margaret Thatcher…

    Labour have been unable or unwilling to unseat the tyrant. Its high time he went.

    I don’t care if this business is “political”. So long as calls genuinely have been made to the helpline it is fair for Ms Pratt to say so…

  26. Ray Turner says:

    And one final thought. If this bullying helpline is questionable, run by somebody who’s also involved in a consultancy etc, etc,

    Who allowed this to be set up under the guise of a National Bullying helpline. Its the corrupt/incompetent Labour Government isn’t it.

    And don’t forget the other stories we’ve seen over the last couple of years about similar agencies being set up, e.g. to help the long term unemployed, but the situation being exploited by the people/agencies who run them. Channel 4 even made a prime time documentary about one of these agencies last year, as I recall….

  27. trevor mansfield says:

    bullying is never defensible in any sphere. however, being demanding of high standards of work, even aggressiveness, is not the same. if you want high demands to be made of people in any one sphere, then it must surely be at the hub of government. bullying however is often insidious, and will often take the form of subtle exclusion, not least practised by say ,14 year olds, who might then put on a face of innocence when challenged
    i understood that george osborne suffered such exclusion treatment at university when being referred to as oick , poor lamb, because he had not gone to a posh enough school. even the blessed margaret, was often quoted as being an excluder, if somebody were deemed in whispers to be ” not one of us” .
    bullying takes many forms . gordon brown is undoubtedly a flawed character, but who is not?

  28. Meg Howarth says:

    It’s the Law Society, according to Ms Pratt herself, Ray, who permitted the relationship between the ‘helpline’ and the Pratts’ private consultancy.

  29. adrian clarke says:

    Ray on the mark again.What i do not understand is how the bullying help line got charity status.That aside i agree there is no smoke without fire and although the bullying was highlighted by Rawnsleys book , it is an old oft repeated story of Browns behaviour.Isn’t it strange that both Mandelson and Prescott , who have both maligned his character in the past now leap to his support.Is that anything to do with and election in the offing and its too late to ditch him now?

    1. Graham says:

      No smoke without fire? – I hope you’re never called for jury service.

      Maybe Mandelson and Precott know there’s nothing in this one.

      Google for Cameron and temper. Remember there’s no smoke without fire!

      Question Cameron’s judgment in interfering with Northern Ireland.

  30. tanya spooner says:

    What many people in the counselling industry know is that they are constantly dealing with shocking information, which by its very nature, reveals all sorts of bad human behaviour. Their usefulness is ended by giving any of this material away, for whatever reason.
    I respect Andrew Rawnsley’s journalism, and I must assume that his claims have been checked through his publisher’s legal department. The intervention of Mrs Pratt has detracted from the validity of what is in the Rawnsley book, but has had the useful function of exposing what appears to be a charity of questionable status.

  31. Anthony Lawton says:

    And I am still mildly obsessed ….. watch out for graphics at about 35 secs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxJoMIFDTSs

  32. Jane Karlsson says:

    I used to know someone like Gordon Brown, and the interesting thing was that he didn’t shout at people who deserved it, but at people who didn’t. There was nothing they could do, because if they said ‘We don’t deserve this’, he would say ‘Of course you do! And anyway, I’m not doing it!’
    They found this situation very frightening, because the harder they tried, the more they were punished.

  33. Wilma Miller says:

    I watched Gary’s report tonight which was very illuminating, especially on the subject of GB’s lack of empathy. If they pose this election the stories will be tumbling out. Once again I would say that Andrew Rawnsley is not in the business of making things up- if he were Brown would sue him.

  34. adrian clarke says:

    George,If i was on a jury , of course there is no smoke without fire but it is up to the prosecution to prove it.It is true that circumstantial evidence doesnt always make a case.In Brown’s case there is more than circumstantial evidence now Darling has stated publically No.10 unleashed the fires of hell

  35. Anthony Lawton says:

    Still reflecting on Pratt and Rawnsley, I was put in mind of on of my favourite quotations from the stistician John W. Tukey: “Be approximately right rather than exactly wrong.” I woud suggest that beween them Mr Rawnsley and Mrs Pratt have aptly demonstrated the proposition of Mr Tukey, he the first past and she the second.

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