Wednesday 16 January 2019

Save the Children boss quit over texts sent to female staff

Former chief executive of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth. Photo: PA
Former chief executive of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth. Photo: PA

Steven Swinford

The former chief executive of Save the Children resigned after he admitted making "unsuitable and thoughtless" comments to three young female members of staff, it emerged yesterday.

Justin Forsyth, who is now deputy executive director at Unicef, "apologised unreservedly" to the women after sending them text messages commenting on how they looked and what they were wearing.

It represents the latest scandal facing the British charity sector after it emerged that senior Oxfam staff paid prostitutes while working in Haiti following an earthquake in 2010.

Mr Forsyth's resignation from Save the Children came just four months after Brendan Cox, a friend of Mr Forsyth and former chief strategist at the charity, quit following separate allegations of sexual misconduct.

Mr Forsyth and Mr Cox worked together at Oxfam and later again as advisers to Gordon Brown in Downing Street. Mr Cox, the widower of the late Jo Cox who was murdered in 2016, admitted at the weekend that he had caused the women "hurt and offence".

Neither Mr Forsyth nor Mr Cox were subject to a formal disciplinary hearing. Save the Children said last night that trustees had carried out two internal investigations into the complaints against Mr Forsyth in 2011 and 2015.

It admitted that it should have conducted a further review and "matters should not have been left". The women who complained about Mr Forsyth's behaviour told the BBC he sent them a "barrage" of text messages which left them feeling deeply uncomfortable.

If they did not respond he allegedly sent them emails, and if they still refused to engage they were called over by Mr Forsyth for a private "chat". Save the Children is said to have dealt with each complaint by having a mediation process where Mr Forsyth apologised to the women involved.

One of the complainants, who remained anonymous, said: "The complaints of harassment were not treated with the appropriate degree of seriousness. It seems there was more interest in preventing the exposure of misconduct than in protecting its female employees from predatory behaviour."

Another told the BBC: "It was my dream to work for an organisation like Save the Children but the longer you are there the more you are exposed to some of their bravado and that's both at head office and in the field.

"Other women tell you to watch out for certain senior people. You start to hear rumours about some of the directors but of course, until it happens to you, which it did, you don't really appreciate how hard it is to deal with."

One former senior staff member added: "The centre of this crisis was not in Haiti or in Chad, it was here in London and it went all the way to the top."

In a statement last night Mr Forsyth said: "I made some personal mistakes during my time at Save the Children.

"I recognise that on a few occasions I had unsuitable and thoughtless conversations with colleagues which I now know caused offence and hurt.

"When this was brought to my attention on two separate occasions I apologised unreservedly to the three colleagues involved and my apologies were accepted and I thought the issue was closed many years ago."

Irish Independent

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