‘All I want is for someone to be held responsible

Helen Marks says she is desperate for an end to her ordeal
Fabio De Paola/Times Newspapers Ltd
  • Helen Marks
    Helen Marks says she is desperate for an end to her ordeal Fabio De Paola/Times Newspapers Ltd

A woman at the centre of an NHS bullying scandal says nobody has been held to account, writes Katie Gibbons

It has been a three-year ordeal costing taxpayers almost £1.5 million and has laid bare bullying, sexism and the silencing of whistleblowers in the NHS — yet no one has been held to account.

Executives at an NHS foundation trust helped to orchestrate the dismissal of a married HR director after she rejected the sexual advances of her boss, leading to a tribunal and a payout by the trust. Now The Times has seen evidence of how officials were either allowed to leave quietly after the saga or promoted.

In 2012 Helen Marks, a £99,000-a-year HR director at Derbyshire NHS foundation trust, was subjected to a campaign of humiliation at the hands of Alan Baines, the trust’s chairman. It began when Mr Baines, 67, tried to kiss Mrs Marks, 50, in her office. She spurned him and in response he co-ordinated bullying allegations against her from female staff in a successful attempt to have her suspended.

It has now emerged that Ifti Majid, deputy chief executive of the trust, put pressure on Mrs Marks to drop her case against the mental health trust — but was then promoted to the role of acting chief executive, which he still holds.

She and Mr Baines had been close friends but after she made it clear it was purely platonic he “turned nasty”, accusing her of sleeping with Steve Trenchard, the trust’s chief executive, and branding her a whore, she said from the home she shares with her husband, Peter, in Matlock.

Last month she was awarded £832,000 from the trust. It had spent £424,000 fighting her allegations before a tribunal upheld her claims for sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and unfair dismissal.

Mr Baines, who retired quietly from the trust in 2013, colluded with Professor Trenchard to “dispense” with Mrs Marks by fabricating allegations against her, according to an email from Mr Baines that was shown to the tribunal. Professor Trenchard was suspended last November from his £150,000-a-year post as chief executive on full pay and quit this week with a £75,000 payoff.

Maura Teager, one of the senior female employees who the tribunal heard was fed “spurious and unfounded allegations” by Mr Baines and presented them as her own, has since been been promoted to deputy chairwoman.

After she was suspended in July 2013, Mrs Marks lodged a complaint with the lead governor of the trust detailing the sexual harassment she had endured at the hands of the chairman. Two days later Mr Baines announced his retirement and the case against Mrs Marks was dropped.

In September 2013 Mr Majid came to her home to tell her she was free to come back to work but that she should not pursue a case against the trust. “He’s now acting chief executive. He’s been rewarded for not doing the right thing. If this had been a frontline worker, a healthcare assistant, they would’ve been dismissed,” Mrs Marks said.

Mr Majid denied telling Mrs Marks to drop the case though notes he made of their meeting say: “Home visit, reinforced no case to answer.”

In November 2013 Mick Martin, acting chairman, appointed an HR expert, Lee O’Bryan, to carry out an independent investigation into Mrs Marks’s sexual harassment complaints.

The two men were former colleagues and close friends, and Mr O’Bryan’s “woefully inadequate” four-page review — completed without speaking to Mrs Marks — concluded that her claims were unfounded. Subsequently Mr O’Bryan was made director of workforce and organisational development, the role that had until recently been Mrs Marks’s.

During this time several whistleblowers went to the board with concerns over Mrs Marks’s treatment, she claims. One was allegedly told she had “better watch out for herself”.

Meanwhile Mr Martin also became the deputy parliamentary health services ombudsman (PSHO), a national position he still holds. In July last year Mrs Marks wrote to Mr Martin’s boss, the ombudsman. Dame Julie Mellor, who as ombudsman is the most senior figure responsible for handling NHS complaints, sent a two-line reply, saying her comments had been “noted”.

Mr Martin is now being investigated by the PHSO body, which is also conducting an independent review into how Mrs Marks’s complaint was dealt with, including Dame Julie’s actions.

Mrs Marks and her husband are desperate for the ordeal to come to an end. “All I want is for someone to be held responsible,” she said.

A spokesman for the NHS trust said it had looked into the actions of Mr Majid and Ms Teager and reports had been sent to the board of governors.