Save the Children UK was dragged further into the charity sex scandal yesterday after its former boss admitted inappropriate behaviour towards women.
Justin Forsyth, chief executive from 2010 to 2015, admitted to ‘personal mistakes’ as it was alleged he sent three young women a barrage of over-familiar text messages.
The former aide to Tony Blair, who is now deputy executive director at Unicef, said he had engaged in ‘unsuitable and thoughtless conversations’ which he accepted had ‘caused offence and hurt’.
A BBC investigation revealed there were three separate complaints against Mr Forsyth, pictured with Samantha Cameron, between 2011 and 2015 – the year he left the organisation
Whistleblowers told the BBC Mr Forsyth had made comments on their appearance, their clothes and how he felt about them. It was claimed that if the women didn’t reply to the texts, Mr Forsyth would send them a follow-up email and even call them in for a chat if they still didn’t respond.
The revelations come days after Mr Forsyth faced questions over whether he had protected Brendan Cox, the widower of murdered MP Jo Cox, while the pair worked together at the charity.
Last night a spokesman for Unicef said it was considering ‘appropriate action’ regarding Mr Forsyth. Meanwhile, Save the Children’s new leader admitted yesterday that the charity had investigated more than 200 complaints of misconduct in 2016 alone.
Kevin Watkins told MPs on the Commons aid select committee they looked at 193 cases relating to the safeguarding of children, of which 20 were sent to police and 11 led to dismissals. And another 35 cases of sexual harassment were investigated by Save the Children International, leading to 19 dismissals.
Former Save the Children chief executive Justin Forsyth admitted he engaged in ‘unsuitable and thoughtless conversations’ which he accepted had ‘caused offence and hurt’
The charity’s director of child safeguarding, Steve Reeves, told the committee predatory paedophiles were attracted to aid work because they could get access to children.
Mr Forsyth’s apology last night came after an investigation by Radio 4’s PM programme found there were three separate complaints against him between 2011 and 2015 – the year he left the organisation.
The three separate incidents were reported to the charity’s human resources department.
One woman who complained at the time told PM: ‘It was my dream to work for an organisation like Save the Children, but the longer you’re there the more you’re exposed to some of the bravado and that’s both at head office and in the field.’
One complainant told the PM programme: ‘The complaints of harassment were not treated with the appropriate degree of seriousness.
‘It seemed like there was more interest in the organisation in preventing exposure of the misconduct than in protecting its female employees from predatory behaviour.’ At the weekend, questions were raised about whether Mr Forsyth helped protect Mr Cox while he also worked at the charity.
That came after Mr Cox admitted he had behaved inappropriately toward women during his time at Save the Children. He was allowed to resign before the organisation completed an investigation.
Mr Forsyth left the charity at the same time but last night he denied any suggestion of a cover up.
Questions were raised about whether Mr Forsyth helped protect Mr Cox while he also worked at the charity
Save the Children said that after the women went to HR, Mr Forsyth issued unreserved apologies for his behaviour. In a statement to the BBC, Mr Forsyth said he had made some ‘personal mistakes’ during his time at Save the Children.
He had ‘apologised unreservedly to the three colleagues involved’ and had thought the issue closed many years ago. He added: ‘I also want to make clear I played no role whatsoever in the disciplinary proceedings against Mr Cox, nor their outcome.’
Save the Children said concerns were raised in 2011 and 2015 about inappropriate behaviour and comments by Mr Forsyth. It said two trustees carried out separate investigations into a total of three complaints made by female employees which resulted in unreserved apologies from the CEO to which all the parties agreed.
It added: ‘Concerns were raised with trustees that matters should not have been left as they were and that a further review was required. The review found that HR processes had not been followed in every respect.’