News, Culture & Society

Commonwealth chief Baroness Scotland threatened whistleblower, arranged for friends to meet Queen’

Baroness Scotland is alleged to have forced out a member of the Commonwealth Secretariat staff  

Commonwealth secretary general Baroness Scotland herded foreign dignitaries ‘like cattle’ and made them watch a visit of the Queen from a ‘minstrels’ gallery’, a tribunal heard.

The Labour peer introduced one of her friends to the Queen and arranged for another to brief the monarch, it was claimed.

Baroness Scotland is accused of telling staff they must each be a ‘mini-me’ – and seeking to end the 15-year career of an employee she believed had crossed her.

The ex-barrister and Cabinet member was also publicly rebuked by the tribunal for not turning up to give evidence.

It follows a furore in 2016 over claims she spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on ‘extravagant’ renovations to her grace-and-favour London home after taking over the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The tribunal heard she allegedly abused her position by forcing out ‘head of office’ Ram Venuprasad, 45, believing – without evidence – that he had leaked stories about her to newspapers.

The Secretariat admitted at the two-day hearing this week that Mr Venuprasad was poorly treated in the disciplinary process, which unfairly left him unable to respond to the claims against him and saw him attacked in the Press by an official spokesman.

He insists he raised internal concerns over the baroness’s conduct and other matters in a proper fashion, but that his ‘whistleblowing’ led to him being victimised by her.

The Secretariat insists the peer – who has earned the nickname Baroness Shameless – herself had nothing to do with any wrongdoing.

But the tribunal heard allegations that she forced Mr Venuprasad out of his job, smeared him behind his back, and threatened to report him to police for fraud in India and ‘make him unemployable’.

In documents lodged with the tribunal, Mr Venuprasad recorded a formal visit by the Queen to Commonwealth headquarters at Marlborough House, London, in 2016. He claimed: ‘High Commissioners are required to watch the visit from a minstrels’ gallery. They complain about being ‘ushered around like cattle’.’

A tribunal was told  Baroness Scotland allegedly smeared Ram Venuprasad behind his back, threatened to report him to police for fraud in India and 'make him unemployable'

A tribunal was told  Baroness Scotland allegedly smeared Ram Venuprasad behind his back, threatened to report him to police for fraud in India and ‘make him unemployable’

Mr Venuprasad also ‘expressed surprise’ that ‘an outside party and friend of Lady Scotland, Rola Khoury, is ushered in to the Green Room by David Banks, Lady Scotland’s public affairs adviser, to meet the Queen.’

The document added: ‘He also expressed surprise at [Baroness Scotland’s friend] Lord Patel briefing and escorting the Queen.’

Baroness Scotland, 62, took up the role in April 2016. She denies any wrongdoing.

The Secretariat is not covered by UK employment law, but under its own whistleblowing rules Mr Venuprasad is entitled to a tribunal to rule on his complaints. 

He claims he was treated unfairly when he was given a final written warning and abruptly left his job in late 2016.

His barrister Tom Coghlin QC told how Mr Venuprasad rose through the ranks of the Secretariat for 15 successful years before he started to raise concerns.

They included the baroness’s requests for more pay than predecessor Kamalesh Sharma, installing her own team including Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Matthew Doyle, and the costly hiring of her associate Lord Patel of Bradford as a consultant.

Mr Venuprasad claimed Baroness Scotland was accompanied by her sister, Hazel Scotland, when she visited Mr Sharma for a briefing. The sister remained a regular visitor to the headquarters, even receiving briefings and being consulted on diary dates, the tribunal heard. 

According to Mr Venuprasad, he warned Baroness Scotland about organising a £500,000 garden party which he claims 'marked him out'

According to Mr Venuprasad, he warned Baroness Scotland about organising a £500,000 garden party which he claims ‘marked him out’

Mr Venuprasad claims three days before the baroness officially arrived in her job, he was told ‘Team Scotland’ required office space for at least six people, potentially dislodging existing staff. 

On her first day ‘she tells staff ‘I am the Secretariat’ and all staff are ‘mini -mes’,’ he said.

Mr Venuprasad says he warned about Baroness Scotland organising a £50,000 garden party, expressing concerns about ‘the cost, invitation list, timing and absence of Secretariat staff’.

He told the tribunal: ‘As a result of making the disclosures I was immediately marked out … by the secretary general as being the source of a leak when adverse reports about her were published in the UK Press.

‘I was then subjected to a campaign of intimidation and hostility clearly designed not only to punish me, but to damage me reputationally and psychologically.

‘I deny in the most strenuous terms that I leaked sensitive and confidential information to the Press.’

Mr Venuprasad claims he was treated as the sole suspect for the leaks but it could not be proved so he was suspended, given a final written warning, and effectively pushed out for a bogus offence of forwarding work emails to his private email address.

He claims he would otherwise have worked as a ‘high performer’ for six more years. He wants compensation that could approach £500,000.

Mr Venuprasad said: ‘A Secretariat spokesperson described me to the media, on the record, as ‘a profoundly disaffected individual’. This description had therefore been sanctioned, probably at the highest levels.

‘I had been told that the SG was threatening to report me to police regarding my previous employment. My career was in tatters.’ He said he was falsely accused of corruption.

The Secretariat’s lawyer, Alice Lacourt, said the baroness denied smearing Mr Venuprasad behind his back.

Tribunal chairman David Goddard QC said: ‘Why can’t the secretary general say that? … It is unusual not to have evidence from the people who made the decisions.’

Mrs Lacourt said it was not felt necessary to call the baroness to give evidence to deny she had smeared Mr Venuprasad because there was no direct evidence that she had.

An official Secretariat spokesman later said it was the ‘busiest’ time of year for the secretary general who had been in Australia all week for the Commonwealth Games, meetings and conferences.

The tribunal findings will be announced at a later date.