Page last updated at 11:20 GMT, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Downing Street bullying row helpline suspended

Christine Pratt
Christine Pratt's charity helpline has been under intense scrutiny

A charity helpline which some members of Downing Street staff allegedly called to complain about bullying has been temporarily suspended.

The National Bullying Helpline said it was considering its future after chief Christine Pratt was criticised for going public with claims about No 10.

In a statement, it said Mrs Pratt was "prepared to resign if necessary".

Gordon Brown has denied any suggestion of bullying. The charity's patrons resigned after Mrs Pratt's comments.

The four patrons, who included Tory MP Ann Widdecombe, said her decision to contact the media about calls made to the helpline amounted to a breach of confidence.

We're a sort of family in Downing Street and like every family there's issues that come from time to time
Gordon Brown

Mrs Pratt has made it clear none of the callers accused Mr Brown personally of bullying and said he may not even have known about the claims.

Announcing the temporary suspension, the Swindon-based charity said: "Competitor anti-bullying charities, individuals with an axe to grind and a few others have forced our hand.

"We would assure you that we are not politically driven in any way. We would be pleased to meet with Gordon Brown, to whom we wish no ill, if it would help to remedy the situation.

"We are currently considering the future of the charity. Christine Pratt is prepared to resign if necessary. However, this will necessitate the appointment of a paid CEO which is a luxury we have not been able to afford in the past."

Storm of criticism

The row began on Sunday with a story in the Observer - based on a book by journalist Andrew Rawnsley - alleging that Mr Brown grabbed staff by the lapels, shoved them aside and shouted at them.

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson denied the claims, insisting the PM was "demanding" but "doesn't bully people".

But Mrs Pratt then contacted the BBC to say a flat denial sent out the wrong message and she would expect Downing Street to follow "due process" and look into calls that her helpline had taken from a small number of staff.

Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg said the matter warranted further investigation, but civil service chief Sir Gus O'Donnell said there was no need for an inquiry and that he had never felt the need to speak to Mr Brown about his behaviour.

Mrs Pratt's decision to speak out provoked a storm of criticism and the Charity Commission said it had received more than 60 complaints.

Another bullying charity, Bullying UK, said it had received e-mails from people saying they would never contact such helplines again, because of the lack of confidentiality.

Mr Brown said on Wednesday: "We're a sort of family in Downing Street and like every family there's issues that come from time to time, but we've got a great working environment and we get things done."

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