The boss of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been accused of “intimidating” and “isolating” the organisation’s senior commissioners.
Speaking at a Human Rights Select Committee, four commissioners criticised Trevor Phillips, chairman of the EHRC, for stifling internal debate through a “sofa government” form of leadership.
Three of the four commissioners giving evidence resigned earlier in the year in protest against Phillips’ alleged behaviour.
Phillips was also accused of promoting his friends and chasing newspaper headlines.
Francesca Klug, who resigned as a commissioner in July, told the committee the EHRC was “hierarchical, unaccountable and not transparent”.
She said: “There was an atmosphere of intimidation in holding the chair to account. If you [disagreed] with what the chair said, it created a sense of intimidation.
“It was sofa government, as in Number 10. If you had no access, you were [without influence].
“I’m not sure we managed to connect with the British people and explain what we stand for. I thought the commission was chasing headlines – and sometimes over things I was ashamed about.
“We were very frustrated about the lack of capacity on the board to have frank and open discussions. I have never felt so managed.”
Kay Hampton, who also resigned earlier in the year, said Phillips “didn’t get human rights”, and said having him occupying the position of chairman was “like getting a lawyer to do surgical operations in a hospital theatre”.
Hampton added: “People were isolated if they asked a question. There was an inner circle… when we challenged the chair we were either ignored, isolated, or it was as though we hadn’t spoken.”
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay rights group Stonewall and a commissioner at the EHRC, accused Phillips of inappropriately promoting friends.
He said: “Trevor has also interfered twice inappropriately with applications in order to promote the candidacy of less well-qualified friends of his.”
Phillips will appear before the committee on 10 November.