Highgrove secretary claims racial abuse

A black former secretary to the Prince of Wales at his country home in Gloucestershire told an employment tribunal yesterday that she left after being racially abused by other staff.

A black former secretary to the Prince of Wales at his country home in Gloucestershire told an employment tribunal yesterday that she left after being racially abused by other staff.

Elizabeth Burgess, 39, who had worked part-time at the prince's Highgrove estate near Tetbury for 10 years, broke down in tears as she claimed that the prince's valet, Michael Fawcett, had called her a "fucking nigger typist".

She resigned from the job in March, but is claiming constructive dismissal because of abuse she claims she suffered.

Mrs Burgess, of Bristol, was asked by Adam Tolley, the prince's solicitor, whether she had ever made a formal complaint about her treatment.

She replied, weeping: "It just brings back all sorts of memories. One time we were in the dining room and we were talking about the office bible, the policy and procedures document that we were working on, and as I left [Fawcett] said: 'What the hell would you know, you're just a fucking nigger typist.' As he said it, the door opened behind me and I heard the Prince of Wales call Michael and he just flushed and I ran into my office."

She claimed she had told Amanda Yaxley, Highgrove's personnel officer, about the incident and had been told to make sure she had a witness. "But she did not think anything would be done about it because we all knew that the prince adored Michael and would not listen to anyone else so there was no point in making a complaint because nothing would be done about it."

Mrs Burgess resigned after a dispute over her working hours. She is claiming breach of contract, constructive dismissal - alleging that Mr Fawcett and Mark Bolland, the prince's deputy private secretary, had humiliated her - and that she was sexually and racially discriminated against.

She told the tribunal that a meeting with Mr Bolland she had thought would be about annual leave entitlement when she returned to work after the birth of her second child in effect turned into a disciplinary hearing.

"They wanted a white face at Highgrove and I was not that face," she claimed. "In the Prince of Wales's household there is still very much the old school and they have not really taken to black people.

"I never felt part of the team. There were always black jokes and names going round. Because it is the Royal Family it is still very protected. It has its own rules and regulations.

"We are servants. People who work for the Prince of Wales are not employees and to be a servant's servant is bad enough but to be a black servant's servant is worse. I would never have the old school tie and I would never be one of them even though I did a good job."

Stephen Lamport, the treasurer to Prince Charles's household, insisted there was no reason Mrs Burgess should have felt excluded. He told the tribunal: "There was no wish among anyone in the office to push Lizzie out of her job. She was a valued member of the Prince of Wales's household for a long period of time."

He added: "Highgrove is not managed in a confrontational way. Loyalty and experience matter a lot. Very rarely do we deal with things through confrontation."

Prince Charles has frequently insisted that he opposes all forms of discrimination. His press secretary, Colleen Harris, is black.

The tribunal continues.


Stephen Bates

The GuardianTramp

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