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NHS trust bosses apologise for personal comments in ‘whistleblower’ meeting

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The chief executive and HR director of a mental health trust have apologised for making unguarded personal comments about a senior manager and her union representative in a meeting, not knowing they were being recorded.

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According to a transcript of the recording, West London Mental Health Trust director of workforce and organisational development Rachael Moench asked trust chief executive Steve Shrubb if he could “smell alcohol” on Hayley Dare’s union representative in the meeting.

Mr Shrubb described Dr Dare as a “very, very disturbed woman” and that she reminded him “of my first wife”.

Although Dr Dare had left the room with her representative from union Managers in Partnership when the comments were made, they were captured on a recording device, left running in her bag in the room.

The remarks were revealed by the trust’s former clinical lead for women’s services in evidence she submitted to an employment tribunal, in which she claimed to have suffered detriment after whistleblowing – something the trust denies.

The meeting in March had been called to negotiate Dr Dare’s return to work, secondment or payoff after a period of special leave.

According to the transcript, after she and union representative left the room, Mr Shrubb said: “I’m buggered if she thinks she’s going to screw me for a load of money and I’m buggered if I’m going to spend money sticking her in another trust.”

Mr Shrubb added that if she was allowed to resume work at the trust in a different directorate, he would “give it three months before she then fingers someone else as being a bully… I’ll put money on it”.

He said Dr Dare had had an affair with another senior member of staff, who was also “really problematic”.

The tribunal heard that Ms Moench described Dr Dare, a clinical psychologist, as “so manipulative”, adding “she’s a victim through and through”.

In a press statement Mr Shrubb and Mrs Moench apologised to Dr Dare.

Both managers said in their evidence the comments had been made to “let off steam” after a meeting they had expected to be confrontational and unpleasant.

Mr Shrubb said in a statement: “These were private remarks, made in an unguarded conversation between senior colleagues.

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Steve Shrubb described his comments as ‘ill judged on reflection’

“On reflection, we recognise that they were ill judged and we have apologised for them.

“The board of the trust remains firmly committed to developing a positive culture within its services, and our private conversation did not influence or affect the way in which Dr Dare was treated by the trust.”

The tape recording was among the evidence submitted during the tribunal, which was heard over four days at Watford employment tribunal.

In his evidence, Mr Shrubb said Dr Dare had come to him the previous year complaining of feeling “bullied, intimidated and harassed” by the trust’s then director of specialist and forensic services Andy Weir.

In his witness statement Mr Shrubb said he then commissioned an independent investigation and Mr Weir was suspended while it was carried out.

The statement said: “Whilst the investigation was ongoing Hayley Dare and one other member of staff received unpleasant, anonymous, threatening letters.”

A copy of the letter was presented in evidence to the tribunal by Dr Dare. It said: “A few of you have engaged in a witch hunt against me”.

Signed “Dr Nautso Brightman”, it urged them to “think how hard it will be on your children if you are unemployed”, adding repeatedly “you cannot beat us”.

Mr Shrubb’s evidence to the tribunal said that as soon as he learned of the letter he “immediately notified the police who decided to carry out their own investigation”.

His statement added: “After a lengthy investigatory process, the police informed us that there was insufficient evidence for them to proceed any further.

“Having carried out our own internal investigation, we too were unable to identify who had sent the letter, although we were satisfied that it had not been sent by Andy Weir.”

Mr Shrubb’s statement said the trust’s own investigation into bullying had found “some criticisms of Andy Weir’s management style, which were substantiated and which could have been perceived as bullying and harassment” but that “many of the allegations were not substantiated”.

It added: “It was clear that whilst some of the findings might potentially have warranted disciplinary action of some sort, they would not have been sufficiently serious to lead to dismissal.”

Mr Weir became associate director of learning disability and forensic services at Leeds and York Partnership Foundation Trust in April.

The trust denies that Dr Dare suffered any detriment as a result of whistleblowing, and the employment tribunal is due to return its verdict on 10 November.

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