Sunday 23 November 2014

Celebrity cook breaks silence on sex claims by former employee

Robert Mendick

Published 23/06/2014 | 02:30

Annabel Karmel, the celebrity cook and businesswoman, has told of her anguish at being falsely accused of sexual harassment and refused to pay compensation
Annabel Karmel, the celebrity cook and businesswoman, has told of her anguish at being falsely accused of sexual harassment and refused to pay compensation

Annabel Karmel, the celebrity cook and businesswoman, has told of her anguish at being falsely accused of sexual harassment by an employee she had sacked.

Mrs Karmel, a mother of three, has taken the highly unusual step of ripping up a confidentiality agreement to speak out against Mark Salter, her accuser.

Mr Salter has had seven jobs in the past decade and brought legal claims against three employers.

Mrs Karmel said the case highlighted the problem businesses face when confronted by false and damaging allegations which cost huge sums and time to defend.

"Everything he said about me was lies," she said. "He was accusing me of sexual harassment and even racial harassment. My career depends on my reputation and here he was trying to wreck it. He didn't have a shred of evidence but it has cost me £60,000 to defend my name."

Mr Salter (39) had demanded £50,000 in compensation after being fired last June, four months into his job as sales director. On the day of an employment tribunal, the case was settled out of court.

Mr Salter "unreservedly retracted all of the allegations" made against her – but not before damaging details of his claims had been leaked to tabloid newspapers.

The subsequent headlines – including an allegation that Mrs Karmel had only fired him after he rejected her sexual advances – caused her great distress.

"I just wanted to curl up and never get up again," she said, "I remember going home and collapsing in the hall and weeping. I just felt I couldn't be happy again.

"I had this terrible feeling of what he had done to me. It just felt like my life was over. His attack on me was so personal."

Mrs Karmel (57) tore up the confidentiality agreement, which had prevented her talking about the case, after she was made aware of claims brought by Mr Salter against two previous employers. She had agreed to pay him £3,000 – essentially nuisance money for him to go away – as part of the settlement but is now refusing to hand over the sum . "I am not now paying up," she said.

Mrs Karmel has also been alarmed to discover a publicist had been acting as Mr Salter's spokesman in the aftermath of the case.

She had agreed to settle because she believed that, had the case gone to tribunal, she would have been subjected to several days of false and humiliating allegations. The case would also have cost her an estimated additional £15,000 in legal fees.

Mrs Karmel has been nicknamed "the Delia Smith of children's cooking". She has written dozens of books and runs an eponymous food company valued at £10 million. The allegations had threatened to undermine her role as a child-friendly cook who appeals to millions of families around the world.

Mr Salter had begun working for her in February last year but was dismissed four months later. She had been contacted by one of his previous employers, who had realised he was working for her and warned her that "as a small company I feel morally obliged to warn you about Mark Salter".

As a result, she discovered elements of his CV were misleading and, having also become concerned about other issues, including absenteeism, she dismissed him.

In October, she was notified of his claim for sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Although he is white, he accused her of being prejudiced against him because his fiancée is a Muslim.

Mrs Karmel, who had never met the fiancée, said: "This claim came out of the blue. The only grounds he could sue me on were racial discrimination and sexual harassment because he had been on a probationary period. I regarded this as some kind of attempt to extort money." The Sunday Telegraph has seen Mr Salter's CV, which omits mention of two jobs.

One of those posts was as sales manager for Jenx, a Sheffield company which makes disability products.

He worked for Jenx for seven months until July 2005 when he was sacked. He claimed to have injured his back on two occasions after lifting heavy chairs and fell out with bosses over the incidents.

Over two days in June 2005, he telephoned police and drove to a police station to report that he had been held against his will at Jenx, claiming he was locked in by managers. It is understood police subsequently telephoned the company over an allegation of possible kidnapping but took no further action.

Mr Salter made a claim against Jenx, asking for £50,000 compensation but he reached an out-of-court settlement on the day of an employment tribunal hearing. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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