Downing Street bullying row escalates as charity breaks silence

The row over allegations about Gordon Brown’s treatment of his own staff deepened yesterday when the boss of an anti-bullying charity said it had been contacted by individuals from his office.

The accusations by Christine Pratt, head of the National Bullying Helpline, that “three or four” staff from Downing Street had called the charity for advice, have caused the prime minister’s parliamentary aide to call for evidence of the calls.

Other MPs have questioned why Pratt went public with information that was supposed to be confidential.

Labour MP Anne Snelgrove – Brown’s parliamentary private secretary – said the charity “needs to demonstrate that these questions really have come from staff at Number 10”.

“Why is she [Pratt] going public with this rather than taking it up privately if these phone calls were genuine?”

Pratt claims she spoke out in anger at Number 10’s denial of Brown’s behaviour towards staff, the BBC has reported. Her comments followed a report in the Observer which claimed that civil service head Sir Gus O’Donnell had warned the PM about his treatment of staff.

Pratt told the broadcaster: “Over recent months we have had several inquiries from staff within Gordon Brown’s office.

“Some have downloaded information; some have actually called our helpline directly and I have spoken to staff in his office.”

Outright denial could “compound the stress of those who believe they are being bullied”, she said.

“We are not suggesting that Gordon Brown is a bully, what we are saying is staff in his office working directly with him have issues, and have concerns, and have contacted our helpline.”

Downing Street said it had never been contacted by the charity about the allegations. A No 10 spokesman said it had “rigorous, well established procedures” for “staff to address any concerns over inappropriate treatment or behaviour”.

“The civil service will continue to have a no tolerance policy on bullying,” the spokesman told the BBC.

No 10 also denied reports of Brown’s alleged mistreatment of staff in extracts from a book published in the Sunday newspaper, written by the Observer’s chief political commentator, Andrew Rawnsley.

The book includes details of incidents where it is alleged Brown grabbed staff by the lapels, shoved them aside and shouted at them.

Downing Street described the the reports as “malicious allegations” that are “without foundation”.

A Cabinet Office statement said: “It is completely untrue to say that the cabinet secretary ever gave the prime minister a verbal warning about his behaviour.”

Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe, a patron of the bullying charity, criticised Pratt’s decision to go public, saying the helpline was supposed to be confidential.

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