Brown distances himself from bullying row

Gordon Brown will try to draw a line under the damaging Downing Street bullying row today after he flatly dismissed claims he intimidated junior staff.

Gordon Brown will try to draw a line under the damaging Downing Street bullying row today after he flatly dismissed claims he intimidated junior staff.

The British Prime Minister branded the allegations “wrong” after Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell ruled out holding a formal inquiry.

But questions were still being asked as to why it took nearly two days for O'Donnell to deny explicitly that he had spoken to Mr Brown about intimidatory behaviour.

Meanwhile, an anti-bullying charity that disclosed it had been contacted by officials from Number 10 was thrown into chaos after all of its patrons quit.

Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe, TV presenter Sarah Cawood and stress expert Professor Cary Cooper all severed ties with the National Bullying Helpline after criticising founder Christine Pratt for breaching confidentiality. Tory councillor for Hillingdon Mary O’Connor also reportedly resigned.

Earlier David Cameron demanded an inquiry into what he said were “very serious matters” about what went on in Downing Street, while Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg said the allegations of bullying were “very important” and should be cleared up.

But the premier’s spokesman said yesterday afternoon: “The Cabinet Secretary would like to make clear that he has never raised concerns with the Prime Minister about him acting in a bullying or intimidatory manner in relation to No 10 staff, let alone giving him any sort of verbal warning.”

No complaints about Mr Brown were ever made through the formal procedures during his time as Prime Minister, said the spokesman.

In an interview with The Economist magazine, Mr Brown gave his first direct response, insisting: “The Cabinet Secretary has made it clear that he’s had no inquiries, there’s been no reprimand, there’s been no private message to me... (The) story is completely wrong.”

However, journalist Andrew Rawnsley stood by the allegations raised in his book 'The End Of The Party', pointing out that three statements had now been issued by Downing Street on O'Donnell’s behalf.

He told the BBC’s Newsnight programme: “What they have not denied on behalf of the Cabinet Secretary is that he had a conversation with the Prime Minister about his behaviour... one person’s idea of a verbal warning could be another person’s private word.”

Rawnsley’s book includes accounts of Mr Brown allegedly pulling a secretary from her chair, “roughly shoving” an aide, and four-letter-word rants that frightened staff.

Mr Cameron called for Philip Mawer, who polices the ministerial code, to conduct an inquiry.

“These are very serious matters,” he said. “I’m sure that Number 10 Downing Street and the Civil Service in some way will want to have some sort of inquiry to get to the bottom of what has happened here.”

Mr Clegg said: “In politics, how you behave behind closed doors – even the great closed doors of Number 10 – how you behave once the cameras are switched off, does... matter, so I do think this does need to be cleared up by Number 10.”

Mrs Pratt defended her decision to make the complaints public, claiming she was prompted to speak out after First Secretary Peter Mandelson dismissed the allegations in the Rawnsley book.

“Our concern here is the public statement from No 10 of denial... we would just want Gordon Brown and No 10 to lead by example,” she said.

“We would have hoped that Gordon Brown would have said that he was looking into this, that due process was being followed, and that he takes these issues seriously.”

Mrs Pratt explicitly acknowledged that none of the calls referred to claims of bullying by Mr Brown himself.

“Absolutely not, and nor have we said that Gordon Brown is a bully,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Mrs Pratt said she felt “slightly intimidated” by some of the reaction to her allegations.

She insisted: “We haven’t breached confidentiality and we wouldn’t do that.

“There is no political edge at all. We are a non-political organisation.”

However, Miss Widdecombe said she could not stay on as a patron in light of the way Mrs Pratt breached confidences – although the Maidstone and the Weald MP also rebuked the Government for reacting in a way that gave “a great deal of credibility to those who say it is a bullying institution”.

Euromillions presenter Cawood said: “In light of the recent events where confidential phone calls were made public, I feel it is no longer a campaign with which I would like my name to be associated.”

Official figures released last year disclosed that there had been “fewer than five” cases in the previous three years of staff in the Cabinet Office – which includes Downing Street – being disciplined for bullying or harassment.

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