Children's charity boss 'swore at Cherie Blair's stepmother in front of colleagues'

CHERIE Blair's stepmother – a prospective West Yorkshire Labour MP – was branded a "f****** b****" and her relatives "sneered at" after whistle-blowing about a "chaotic" children's charity where she worked as a teacher, an employment tribunal heard today.

Steph Booth was accompanied by actor Tony Booth, the father of the former prime minister's wife, at the hearing in Manchester against her former employers, Cool UK Ltd, based in Burnley and Manchester.

Mrs Booth worked as a teacher for the charity which offered a "radical and experimental alternative" to traditional education to help teenagers excluded from school by teaching them vocational subjects such as health and beauty, construction and vehicle maintenance.

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But she claimed the organisation, contracted by local education authorities, was "chaotic and unprofessional", said staff were unqualified, some bought and downloaded porn on the premises and one worker there was even jailed then considered for re-employment.

When she raised the issues with the charity's boss, Gareth Binding, she was constantly brushed off then subjected to a campaign of victimisation for whistle-blowing, she said.

Mrs Booth, who has been selected to stand as a Labour candidate for the Calder Valley constituency in West Yorkshire in the next election, also said Mr Binding tried to destroy her reputation and credibility by writing letters which were seen by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Matters came to a head with her boss at a stormy management meeting in February last year.

"Mr Binding's behaviour towards me was aggressive and derogatory in front of colleagues," she told the tribunal.

"In fact he said I was a f****** b*****.

"My accent and my education and my relatives were all sneered at. Mr Binding had demonstrated he had no intention of addressing any of my concerns."

She then went sick before being made redundant a month later, just under a year after joining the charity in April 2008.

Mrs Booth said she was assaulted by one female pupil, but there were no proper health and safety policies.

Buildings were cold and unsuitable for youngsters and the charity was "failing" the children it was supposed to be teaching, she said.

One worker was accused of being a "ringleader" in regularly buying porn at the Burnley unit, but when she complained Mr Binding said she was just being "fussy".

Another member of staff, who she claimed had downloaded porn, was jailed for driving whilst disqualified but it was then considered he should be re-employed after leaving jail because he would be desperate for a job and accept a pay cut, she said.

After she left the charity Mr Binding then tried to "sabotage" her campaign to be selected to stand for Labour in Calder Valley she said, by writing a series of letters questioning her suitability as an MP.

Some were sent to the party's ruling National Executive Committee, while others went straight to the top, she said.

"He wished to victimise, punish and discredit me," she said. "One letter was copied to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and one was addressed to the Prime Minister directly."

Mrs Booth is claiming unfair dismissal, breach of contract and suffering detriment or dismissal due to exercising her rights under the Public Interest Disclosure Act and on health and safety grounds.

Mrs Booth married Mrs Blair's actor father in 1998, a year after Tony Blair's New Labour swept to power.

Mark Ramsbottom, solicitor for Mr Binding and Cool UK, asked Mrs Booth why she did not put even one of her complaints about the alleged "serious failures" in writing.

"Things were not done that way within the company," she replied.

It was put to her that she "coerced" a colleague to put a comment about a political rival on the website of the Halifax Courier newspaper, but she replied: "It is not true."

After she was made redundant from her 26,000-a-year job, a dispute arose over a 5,000 payment made by Mr Binding to Mrs Booth, the hearing was told.

Mr Binding claims it was a loan, to be repaid, because she owed money to contractors.

Mrs Booth said it was a bonus after a pay rise had been promised then withdrawn and she had taken a promotion to development manager.

"My husband is retired, we depend on my income," Mrs Booth said.

She got the promotion after Mr Binding "realised just how extensive my contacts are", she added.

"Obviously I do know a lot of people, or can get contact with a lot of people."

Earlier Mrs Booth said her union rep discussed the redundancy issue and told her: "The best thing we can do, Steph, is get in, get you some money and get out."

Simon Walker, a building tutor and former work colleague of Mrs Booth at the charity, said the running of the organisation was "shabby" with "woefully inadequate resources" and "chronic" funding.

But Mr Binding drove a "big, shiny Mercedes Benz car" and had a villa and an apartment in France.

Mr Walker, who later resigned in "disillusion", said after Mrs Booth was made redundant Mr Binding commented to other staff that she had, "been married five times and had five husbands".

"People were asked if they had any dirt on her by Mr Binding," he added.

The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow when Mr Binding is expected to give evidence.