Sandra Horley (pictured) is accused of fostering a ‘toxic’ atmosphere at domestic abuse charity Refuge
The head of domestic abuse charity Refuge has been accused of fostering a bullying culture and ‘toxic’ atmosphere.
Chief executive Sandra Horley allegedly used the charity’s resources to publish a book while earning more than £120,000 a year.
Management routinely bully and belittle staff, according to a letter signed by 13 of its workers and sent to trustees at the end of 2017.
It has since been handed to The Times after the people behind it feared nothing was being done.
The letter alleged: ‘For a charity that empowers women in its services, the situation in head office is unfortunately very different. The atmosphere is toxic.’
Ms Horley is also accused of hiring family members to fill sensitive roles at the charity.
Eighteen of the 20 members of the Refuge fundraising team left between January and November last year, the letter states.
Ex-workers claim that management forced them to work through the night. They say that they were allowed to go home to change clothes before coming back to the office.
Ms Horley (pictured at the charity’s headquarters with the Duchess of Cornwall and Melanie Clarke, a domestic abuse survivor, right)
Several have reportedly sought help for mental health issues over the alleged behaviour.
The letter says Ms Horley used ‘significant staff resource and time’ to re-edit and publish her book, Power and Control.
Profits from the book, which bore the charity’s logo, went to Ms Horley as opposed to Refuge.
Her husband, Julian Nieman, is Refuge’s only photographer and shoots vulnerable women staying in shelters.
Ms Horley (pictured with Patrick Stewart, left, and Fiona Bruce, second from right and Rumer, far-right, at Number 10) has allegedly created a bullying atmosphere at the charity
Ms Horley’s daughter, Samantha Nieman, was allegedly hired as an executive assistant without an interview.
The Charity Commission began a compliance case in January 2018 after a serious incident report. The case was closed following an investigation.
A Charity Commission spokesperson said: ‘The Commission opened a compliance case into Refuge (277424) in early 2018 after receiving a serious incident report from the charity regarding concerns about the treatment of staff members and the behaviour of a senior staff member.
‘The trustees took appropriate action by reporting this to the Commission and appointing an independent investigator to carry out a full investigation into the issues raised.
‘We sought further information from the trustees about their general governance and how the charity safeguards and supports its staff.
‘The charity responded to our concerns and informed us that they have put in place a number of steps to deal with the concerns including increasing trustee presence within the charity, reviewing a number of their policies, implementing a framework of organisational values and reviewing staff workloads.
‘At that point we were satisfied that the trustees were responding appropriately. As per standard practice, we will be contacting the trustees to ensure that regulatory advice has been followed and any risks mitigated.’
Trustees chairwoman Maggie Rae last year told staff that remuneration packages will be reviewed but Ms Horley’s remains worth £210,000 to £220,000. That’s a 24 per cent rise from 2016-17.
The board commissioned the Centre for Charity Effectiveness to produce and independent report, resulting in a series of recommendations.
Ms Rae told The Times that Refuge’s board accepted the report’s findings and that the charity’s executive co-operated in implementing its recommendations.
‘As a result . . . Refuge is in an even better position to serve its beneficiaries,’ she said.
On the jobs website Indeed, a person who claimed to have worked at the charity commented in the workplace reviews in 2014 that Refuge was: ‘A company set up to help victims of domestic violence which actively bullies its staff. The job was lovely in the sense that there was job satisfaction however management were very aggressive in dealing with staff.’
In 2017 another person wrote that the charity had ‘lost its cause’ and that there was ‘very little support from management’.
The said that Refuge suffered from ‘poor management & lack of solidarity within the organisation’ and there was ‘little support’ to its ‘fabulous’ staff.