Source: Sunday Times
Corbyn adviser Andrew Murray ‘harassed female colleague’ during union days
Gabriel Pogrund | The Sunday Times
September 14 2019, 6:00pm, The Times
One of Jeremy Corbyn’s most powerful aides committed gender-based harassment of a female colleague, a judge has ruled.
Andrew Murray, a former communist who advises the Labour leader on policy, mistreated a female colleague in his former role as chief of staff to Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, in 2015.
Murray, 61, had been asked to deal with “a sickening and orchestrated campaign of bullying and sexual harassment” against the woman, a regional official at the union’s Heathrow branch.
However, an employment tribunal found that he had handled her case in a way that “violated her dignity” and itself represented unlawful harassment under the Equality Act.
The victim, Sally Nailard, 54, said she was “verbally attacked, abused and threatened” and “made to feel physically unsafe” by two male union representatives at the airport during an 18-month period. She was also subject to lewd comments about her genitals and menstrual cycle.
In 2016 a court found the union had failed to take action against the officials involved and instead proposed removing Nailard from the Heathrow office, in effect forcing her out of her £47,000-a-year role.
It also made the landmark ruling that Unite was “vicariously” responsible for the bullying and harassment by its lay officials even though they were employed by Heathrow, not the union.
The latest hearing centred on the role of senior Unite officials in handling the harassment complaint, including Murray, a privately educated Scottish aristocrat who had worked for the news agency of the former Soviet Union and was a long-term member of the Communist Party before joining Corbyn’s team in 2016.
He is also the grandson of Sir Arthur Hope, a 1920s Tory MP and one of the last imperial governors of Madras.
According to the tribunal, Murray rejected a colleague’s advice to suspend the men responsible. He also said he did not believe that some of the abuse, including a man being “very aggressive” and calling Nailard a “school headmistress”, had a “gender element”.
One of the men was briefly suspended from Unite for refusing to co-operate with an internal investigation. Murray lifted the suspension “without delay” after the individual’s wife asked for him to be readmitted.
Explaining his decision, Murray falsely claimed that the official who oversaw the probe had recommended it. The tribunal found: “The decision to lift the suspension was one which Mr Murray took . . . without consulting anyone else.” It also said he “did not check” that Nailard had accepted an apology from the man. She had not.
On September 5 a judge at Watford employment tribunal ruled: “We find that the treatment by Mr Murray and Mr Hughes [who oversaw the investigation] in relation to the concerns raised by the claimant amounted to harassment related to sex.”
Unite must pay Nailard tens of thousands of pounds in compensation, including lost wages from 2014 to 2017, when she started a new job at Network Rail.
Nailard said she would appeal against the ruling because the compensation was inadequate. After leaving Unite she had applied for jobseeker’s allowance and suffered ill health.
Murray is the third member of Corbyn’s inner circle to be drawn into a harassment scandal. His chief of staff, Karie Murphy, is accused of overseeing a culture of bullying and David Prescott, his media adviser, has been accused of sexual harassment.
In last week’s hearing it emerged that Nailard had secretly recorded Howard Beckett, Unite’s assistant general secretary, in a private meeting in 2013 after colleagues told her not to trust him.
The audio reveals Beckett’s apparently aggressive manner towards Nailard, including telling her she was “going off to Never Never Land” and speaking “absolute bollocks”.
After the meeting, Nailard accidentally recorded herself telling a colleague that Beckett was a “f****** creep” and a “Northern Irish git”. She has since said she did not mean the remarks in a discriminatory way.
Unite said it was “pleased” that the tribunal had docked Nailard’s compensation by 30%, in part due to the remarks. It noted that the tribunal found that Nailard’s line manager had supported her.
A spokesman added: “We have previously recognised that errors in our investigative and grievances processes [were found to amount to] unintentional or unconscious harassment.”