Brown's bullying accuser is branded 'a prat' by MP
Pressure on helpline chief to prove claims
Published 24/02/2010 | 05:00
IT IS the row that refuses to go away. Gordon Brown was delicately attempting to draw a fragile line under the "bullying" controversy at Downing Street yesterday when one of his ministers dismissed a charity chief as "this prat of a woman".
Immigration minister Phil Woolas said claims made by Christine Pratt of the National Bullying Helpline, about receiving complaints from inside No 10, were backfiring on her.
Mr Woolas's comments came as Mr Brown tried to make light of the affair with a business-as-usual speech on education.
Mr Woolas told Nick Ferrari on LBC 97.3: "It's a tough business, politics. It's 18, 20 hours a day that people like the prime minister work.
"I think this attack on him by this prat of a woman down in -- where's she from, Swindon? -- I think that's backfiring on her.
"Most people think that Gordon Brown, even if they don't agree with his politics, they think that he's a decent man and I can tell you in my experience, he's a very decent man."
The National Bullying Helpline, based in Swindon, has been thrown into chaos after all its patrons quit in protest at Mrs Pratt going public.
Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe, TV presenter Sarah Cawood and stress expert Professor Cary Cooper all severed ties with the National Bullying Helpline after criticising Mrs Pratt for breaching confidentiality. Tory councillor for Hillingdon Mary O'Connor also reportedly resigned.
Mr Brown described accounts of his behaviour in a book by journalist Andrew Rawnsley as "wrong".
Mr Brown's wife Sarah spoke out in his defence, telling GMTV that "what you see is what you get" with her husband.
She said: "Gordon's the man that I know and the man that I love. People have heard me talk about him and they probably know everything that I would have to say about him. I know him as a strong, hard-working, decent man and he isn't anything else."
But last night Ms Pratt signalled that she intended to stand by her claims despite attempts by senior Labour figures to discredit her. She has also approached the publicist Max Clifford for support.
He has offered to give her guidance on the basis that she can back up her assertion that some Downing Street staff sought advice from the National Bullying Helpline.
The developments threaten to keep the row over Mr Brown's alleged bullying in the headlines.
Mrs Pratt faced heavy criticism for breaching the confidentiality of callers to the helpline. Labour accused her of being part of a politically-motivated campaign.
She has also come under pressure for appearing to change her story after she admitted two of the calls came from the office of the deputy prime minister -- which closed down in 2007 -- and that none involved Mr Brown directly.
Mr Clifford said she was now trying to assemble the evidence to back up her allegations.
Asked if she was confident she had the evidence, Mr Clifford said: "That's what she said to me. There's lots of emails and in the next couple of days they will come back to me to show me clearly what they've got."
He added that she was not looking to sell her story but "justify doing what she's done".