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Greenwich Council bullying: The cleaner’s story revealed by BBC

with 33 comments

Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts threw a set of keys at a cleaner after she woke him up in his office, according to a report aired on BBC1’s Sunday Politics London this morning.

The incident, believed to have taken place early one morning in 2009, has long been talked about in council circles, but journalists have struggled to stand up the allegations.

But Sunday Politics London’s Andrew Cryan has revealed that chief executive Mary Ney held three meetings over the incident with the cleaner, one which also featured Roberts, but no minutes were taken, and the leader did not apologise.

Greenwich Council leader and bully Chris RobertsBarbara Clarke, the cleaner who was allegedly injured by Roberts, died last year. But her son, Jerome Clarke, told Sunday Politics London: “Mum accidentally opened the door on him, not realising someone was there. He woke up in a tantrum, and started shouting at her.

“Mum was all apologetic… [and asked] ‘if you don’t mind I can collect the keys and come back when you’re ready’.

“Again, he just went beserk, went into a tantrum and just threw the keys at my mum. The keys were almost going for her face, she put her hands up to protect herself and the keys smashed onto her wrist. It was sprained and bruised.”

Ms Clarke complained to Greenwich Council, which told Sunday Politics London her account did not tally with her son’s account, but it would not explain how.

But it claimed that Ms Clarke had changed her version of events, saying that she had left her keys in Roberts’ office, and he had tossed the keys to her over the balcony, but she lost her balance after catching them – a version of events her son disagrees with.

“She was upset and stressed and felt nobody was listening to her,” Jerome Clarke told the programme.

Roberts would not appear on camera, but said in a statement he “categorically rejected” Jerome Clarke’s version of events.

The incident has been widely-rumoured for years, but this is the first time the story has been told in public. Earlier this year, this website was passed an anonymous statement reiterating the allegations, but when I tried to stand it up, I hit a wall of silence. Sunday Politics London has been working on the story for some weeks.

Greenwich Council meeting minutes, 27 October 2010Elements of the incident have been hinted at in public. In October 2010, former Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Webbewood once asked Roberts in a full council meeting if he had ever slept overnight in Woolwich Town Hall. He said no.

Most Labour councillors have been reluctant to face the issue.

One who challenged Roberts on the issue changed his tune after he was made mayor. Greenwich West councillor David Grant challenged Roberts for the leadership, telling his colleagues he “wouldn’t be the kind of leader who throws keys at cleaners”.

But since spending a year as mayor in 2012/13, Grant has become one of Roberts’ most loyal public defenders, yelling “cheap!” when a reference was made to his behaviour at last October’s council meeting. Sunday Politics London wanted to film that meeting, but were refused permission by current mayor Angela Cornforth, who also threw out a motion designed to highlight intimidation in the council, asking that it investigate the possibility of choosing a leader by secret ballot.

Chris Roberts and David Grant

One-time critic David Grant became one of Roberts’ defenders after a year as ceremonial mayor

Labour’s shadow minister for London, Tooting MP Sadiq Khan, told the programme that if any allegations were made of bullying, then they should be investigated.

He told presenter Jo Coburn: “Allegations of bullying are very serious, and if they are made they will be investigated.

“There is no place in politics, or any other way of life for bullying. And if there are allegations, then please – if somebody’s watching this, please make them to the Labour Party.”

The programme also featured Roberts’ abusive voicemail to cabinet member John Fahy, the existence of which was first revealed on this website.

But it is unclear what has happened to a standards committee investigation into this, and Greenwich Council is refusing to investigate a possible conflict of interest involving a charity Roberts chairs which is indicated by the voicemail.

Indeed, there are rumours that Greenwich Council’s Labour group, headed by chief whip Ray Walker, has decided to pursue the leak of the voicemail, rather than the bullying behaviour it reveals.

Following Sadiq Khan’s pledge on television today – and Jerome Clarke’s damning testimony – hopefully now councillors will see sense, see beyond their own self-interest, and do something to finally clean up the issue.

5.45pm update: I should point out, of course, that the London Labour Party was first alerted to bullying in Greenwich Council when Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander referred the voicemail claims to it two months ago. The London Labour Party then passed the issue to the Greenwich Council Labour group – nothing has been heard of the complaint since.

Greenwich residents who want to know more about how the council is handling bullying claims can submit a question to next week’s council meeting by emailing committees[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk before noon this Wednesday.

The report can also be seen on BBC iPlayer until 15 December. The London edition of the programme can also be seen on BBC Parliament tonight at midnight. Story updated at 3.10pm to include the town hall question.

33 Responses

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  1. I heard this story, a few years back, from a librarian friend in Woolwich Library – now retired and safe from the Dear Leader.Apparently her union didn’t want to take issue with Roberts, either,else we could well have then got shot of him.

    Another story from my friend was of the visits to the library to remove local newspapers that criticised the Supreme, Glorious One. Democratic process, where?

    roytindle

    8 December, 2013 at 3:10 pm

  2. He managed to sprain her wrist by throwing a set of keys at her? Either the keys were like this those that are used at the Tower, he should be playing for England in the ashes or this story is BS.

    Richard

    8 December, 2013 at 3:42 pm

  3. I believe the room in Town Hall that Roberts slept in was Room 8

    chris guthrie

    8 December, 2013 at 4:02 pm

  4. Roberts’ position is looking increasingly untenable. This short BBC report is just the tip of the iceberg and doesn’t deal with the real bullying claims from ex-colleagues, or the implications of the infamous voicemail.

    Stewart

    8 December, 2013 at 4:02 pm

  5. In 2009 his Party Leader and Prime Minister – Gordon Brown – had a notorious bad temper and infamously threw mobile phones at his staff.

    I’m not excusing Roberts’ behaviour, but if your leader is doing the same thing then that kind of gives you an example to do the same.

    I can’t see Roberts’ resigning over any of this stuff. He’ll need to be forced out kicking and screaming and I just can’t see that happening?

    Plumstead Resident

    8 December, 2013 at 6:33 pm

  6. I’d agree with the suspect suggestion of a bunch of keys causing a sprain, its clearly rubbish. That said other aspects of the story ring true and they indicate the larger problem.

    Firstly the refusal to apologise and secondly the desire to cover up.

    Those are the real problems that Roberts suffers from!

    Darren

    8 December, 2013 at 7:16 pm

  7. I am not able to answer for any other union branch secretaries, but when Barbara came to see me as the Unison Branch Secretary at the time, I assisted Barbara to take the complaint through the Probity and Conduct process. The employer then met with Barbara without union representation. There are some key points. Throughout the process, Roberts has never himself given an account of what happened. Secondly, the role of Mary Ney can not be ignored. It is well known in the Town Hall – he makes the mess, she clears it up, or more accurately, covers it up. His behaviour is well known and notorious. The evidence that exists, not just in this case but in all the others, shows a pattern of bullying behaviour. The Council, as an employer claims that bullying is a disciplinary offence. This can not be taken seriously while Roberts remains as a Councillor. If he does not resign, then the Labour Party must take action – otherwise come election time, this will hang around their necks like a rotten stench.

    onay kasab

    8 December, 2013 at 8:37 pm

  8. Re the keys: it’s a bit of a side issue (Roberts’ general behaviour is the main thing here) but it depends what sort of keys we’re talking about. A cleaner may well have a large set of keys for accessing various parts of the building and in an old building like Woolwich Town Hall, they’re likely to be pretty weighty. My brother has keys for unlocking his workplace – I wouldn’t like them thrown at me.

    ned

    8 December, 2013 at 10:34 pm

  9. Quite right Ned ^.^
    “Sprain” maybe not the correct medical term for those who want to pedantic on here.

    Chris Guthrie

    9 December, 2013 at 8:29 am

  10. When I worked at the dear old Kentish Independent in the late Sixties we had a veteran reporter with a drink/landlady problem who used sleep on the files – pretty comfortable they must have been – about once a week. I’d get him a coffee if I got in early to write up some sport or other. Cllr Roberts was well known to get his head down in Room 8 at the town hall after a tiring meeting and, to be honest, we all just accepted it, even though the odd eyebrow was raised. The trick, of course, is to be psychologically prepared for the unexpected – a fire, a Watergate-type burglary or, in this case, an innocent early morning cleaner just doing her job. At a political meeting many years ago I made a bit of a fool of myself (never!) when I made what I thought was a surprisingly thoughtful contribution after the main speaker had sat down. He – and everyone else present – had no idea what I was talking about. I was at the wrong meeting. My psychological preparation allowed me to see the funny side of it and I chuckle about it to this day. Cllr Roberts, I think it’s fair to say, is not renowned for his sense of humour (anecdote me if I’m wrong!) and the ranting, panting voicemail that everyone’s heard was another example of a lack of psychological preparation to an unexpected occurrence. We can all change, of course, and it could be that a period on the subs’ bench is what’s needed here. I can’t see it happening myself. I can see the unanimous support of 38 clockwork arms at the next council meeting on December 18 and not a single genuine human smile in the place all night. How sad is that for the Royal Borough of Greenwich?

    Peter Cordwell

    9 December, 2013 at 8:48 am

  11. Great work from the BEEB. They need to be turning their skills on how the Dear Leader’s mindset has infected the rest of the council and how it works. Strange that his pal Ray Walker doesn’t recognise the situation as described. Well he would say that wouldn’t he? By the by, I wonder if the information in this log ever had anything to do with the BEEB’S investigations. If so, nice work and keep at it.

    Andy

    9 December, 2013 at 10:10 am

  12. I don’t think it’s possible to take a firm view on what happened based solely on what we heard yesterday. But Onay Kasab is right, there are clouds over Mary Ney as well as over Chris Roberts.

    Things shouldn’t be left here. I suggest an independent inquiry into the key throwing allegations by someone completely independent of the Council and its officers.

    Paul Webbewood

    9 December, 2013 at 10:11 am

  13. Paul if it was one incident I’d agree. But it’s one after the other and the rest of the council go along. And Mary Ney seems to go along with it too .It has created a bully boy culture that extends to how paid officials deal with the public and push schemes through. Most of the people I deal with think they are invincible and beyond account. Perhaps the oxygen of publicity needs to reach more than the Leader

    Ken

    9 December, 2013 at 10:35 am

  14. Peter Cordwell

    9 December, 2013 at 10:44 am

  15. Being an alleged bully boy is bad enough but it is far worse than that.
    The Council has been run by this “Stalin” type leader for far too long to the detriment of democracy.
    How much information has been withheld from Greenwich Residents & Councillors alike over many years.
    Ask Cllr Roberts about the Traveller Families living in horrendous conditions in his old ward & why at the time he did not allow the full Council Committee to see the Housing Report which needed a Committee decision especially when Resident Children health & wellbeing were being affected.
    The Chief Executive has & is a puppet of Roberts, another allegedly paid an awful lot of money not through the regular payroll scheme.

    john

    9 December, 2013 at 10:40 pm

  16. One of the problems with protest has always been that it can get a bit one-dimensional. This is clearly a fantastic and very important blog but, as we saw at the last council meeting, hardly anything moves the people who run this borough. You could go mad trying.
    So I’m thinking that a more fun approach – a bit of satire perhaps – could be added. It would at least make it all a bit more entertaining. I’ve already come up with ‘Silence Is Craven’ for the Labour councillors’ Karaoke Choir at their forthcoming Christmas party, and the reworking of a famous Dickens line to “It’s a far, far worse thing I do” could easily be someone’s end-of-year speech.
    And if enough of us had time to practice we could even sing ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’ at the council meeting on December 18. Any other suggestions? Come on, join the fun!

    Peter Cordwell

    11 December, 2013 at 8:42 am

  17. Oh, okay, here’s another starter for ten. Our older viewers will get this one, a renamed popular TV game: Cross Chris Quiz. Or how about another song: Whistle-Blowing In The Wind. Come on, you miserable lot!!

    Peter Cordwell

    11 December, 2013 at 1:21 pm

  18. What we actually need is a guillotine in General Gordon Square. Knit one, purl one, drop one. It’s not just the Cabinet and CEO who stink, it’s the craven councillors who have let this get so far and the network of jobsworths who work there. I know personally of departments that put sheer lies into official documents and get away with it! Yes, really. This is your council of the year and local democracy in action.

    Jim Tyler

    11 December, 2013 at 6:20 pm

  19. According to @Mark_Chandler:

    “News Shopper understands council leader Councillor Chris Roberts – recorded telling Councillor John Fahy to “get that through your f***ing thick skull” over decisions on Run to the Beat – has been let off with a warning. ”

    http://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/10870883.Bullying_investigation_into_Greenwich_Council_leader_has_concluded/

    So, no further action on the voicemail or cleaner incidents and no investigation of actual bullying claims by fellow councillors.

    The article also confirms 853’s report above that Cllr Walker is however pursuing the voicemail leak itself:

    “We’d expect councillors to deal with the party rather than issue it out through the media if you like. Those are the sort of standards we expect.”

    Stewart

    11 December, 2013 at 6:29 pm

  20. We might need you to be plucky, Jim.
    ‘Standards’. That’s a good ‘un!
    I’m working on a book so all contributions gratefully received. Anonymity assured. Email me on peter.cordwell08@gmail.com
    It’s the good fight, in my opinion.

    Peter Cordwell

    12 December, 2013 at 6:47 am

  21. Welcome to local democracy, or lack of it in Greenwich, but in all fairness it’s not just Greenwich and Labour councils. I think some Conservative councils like Bromley and Bexley behave much in the same way.

    Gabriella

    14 December, 2013 at 9:08 pm

  22. Which is why decent people everywhere have got to try to to do something about it.
    The reason the banks have become the arch villains of our time is partly because the politicians have licked their behinds. Tony Blair was totally in thrall to the rich and now has six houses of his own and earns a reputed £10m a year (he’ll need more than the Catholic church at St Peter’s Gate). For inspiration read Andrew Rawnsley’s wonderful book ‘The End of the Party’ about the Blair and Brown era, exposing the kind of institutional bullying we see in Greenwich.
    Don’t be cynical. Do something about it.

    Peter Cordwell

    15 December, 2013 at 9:14 am

  23. Of course, it isn’t just Labour and isn’t just Greenwich – in London, Barnet’s probably the worst for the Tories, while there’s another ripe example on our doorstep in Bexley, as chronicled in http://bexley-is-bonkers.co.uk/

    This lot are our problem, though, as we live here, so it’s our responsibility to expose it, spread the word, and make sure it gets fixed.

    Darryl

    15 December, 2013 at 9:59 am

  24. Indeed. Wouldn’t it be great if one – just one! – Labour councillor chose to stand up and be counted instead of opting for cowardice disguised as loyalty to the great patriarch. The sad thing is that it’s just a little leap to an environment where people are listened to and trusted…it’s called democracy.

    Peter Cordwell

    15 December, 2013 at 10:32 am

  25. Alex Grant for one deserves credit for his conduct over the last few years. He could play Lot in a film version of the Old Testament..

    Paul Webbewood

    15 December, 2013 at 11:25 am

  26. […] are standing down after citing the party’s bullying culture, while last weekend the BBC aired accusations that council leader Chris Roberts threw a set of keys at a council cleaner who woke him up while he was asleep in his […]

  27. North Korea got an official new Dear Leader this week over the dead body of his uncle. Now there is no suggestion the council,has gone homicidal but all in all can you see an outbreak of honesty and integrity any time soon? The nodding dogs who have let this situation get where it is are hardly likely to have a back bone implant are they? If I look at my own sitting tenants we have one who is going and couldn’t care less, a nodding dog who nods on, and one who may not get re elected if the numbers go wrong. The new comer appears to be a close relative of Macavity the Mystery Cat. And are we confident that the new crop expected will be of more mroal fibre . .. . Should be another depressing business as usual on Wednesday. And I wish it would work out different.

    Jim Tyler

    17 December, 2013 at 9:46 am

  28. […] rather than the tip of an iceberg of questionable behaviour towards councillors and officers. Or throwing keys at cleaners, an incident revealed on television some years after Roberts told his Labour councillors “not […]

  29. Having worked in another London Borough for 23 years years until 2011 when I was selected for redundancy I know exactly what happens. If any member of staff below the management tier makes a complaint, be it formal or informal about a senior manager or councillor they do their damnest to cover it up, ignore the complaint or bully the staff who made the original complaint. HR is there solely to support managment in its disciplinary procedures and not to help the enployees.

    Andrew Jarman

    30 December, 2013 at 7:50 pm

  30. […] under: Why Greenwich Peninsula is going in the wrong direction (8 April 2013), Greenwich Council bullying: The cleaner’s story revealed by BBC (8 December 2013), Council bullying: Wannabe MPs pile in (7 October 2013), Greenwich Council […]

  31. […] “by a commercial operator”. This was for the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, on bullying allegations against Chris Roberts, aired in December and made by Juniper TV. It also includes Peninsula councillor Mary Mills handing […]

  32. […] and approachable, eh? Clearly this was an attempt to deflect some of the bullying accusations against the leader. Yet Chris Roberts’ exercise in vanity begins to look foolish when you remember how closely […]

  33. […] the most tricky task of all: changing the culture of the council. The BBC, 853 blog, News Shopper and others ran a series of reports about alleged bullying, cover-ups and intimidation in Greenwich […]


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