Prince's aide 'failed to protect staff'

The woman hired by Prince Charles to reform the royal household after allegations of sexual harassment was accused yesterday of failing to protect a member of staff.

The woman hired by Prince Charles to reform the royal household after allegations of sexual harassment was accused yesterday of failing to protect a member of staff.

Mimi Watts, head of personnel for the prince, denied that complaints by Elaine Day, a former PA, were an "unwelcome diversion" which Clarence House wanted "smoothed over", fast.

Ms Day, 45, who is claiming sex discrimination and unfair dismissal, complained to her managers of "inappropriate touching" by Paul Kefford, 32, an assistant private secretary.

Despite the prince's staff speaking of rumours of a history of similar behaviour from Mr Kefford, who is gay, Ruth Downing, counsel for Ms Day, told Croydon employment tribunal in south London that palace staff "perceived" Ms Day as "rocking the boat".

Mrs Watts, who said she had been appointed "to bring a more professional approach to the human resources functions" after an unrelated allegation of harassment in the prince's household, was accused of dealing with Ms Day in "an unprofessional and an unsatisfactory way".

The tribunal also heard that the prince's current private secretary, Sir Michael Peat, described Ms Day's initial allegation as a "misunderstanding" in a memo to another member of staff.

Ms Downing asked Mrs Watts whether she thought this was "a little bit dismissive of legitimate concerns".

"No I don't," Mrs Watts replied.

Ms Downing said the royal household treated Ms Day's complaints as "an unpleasantness that was ... unwelcome".

She said: "In truth, everything then is from the household's point of view conveniently smoothed over. Forget about discrimination. Sir Michael has a quiet word with Mr Kefford, ... and everything goes back to the cosy, nice way it was before."

Mrs Watts, who joined the royal household in June 1999, replied: "I don't know what you mean." She said Ms Day's complaints were "dealt with properly and professionally".

"I do not entirely understand what Elaine means when she says the household does not welcome employees who rock the boat. Like any organisation, it has a number of strong-minded and individualistic [people] working in it."

Mrs Watts told the tribunal that the prince's then deputy private secretary, Mark Bolland, warned her that Ms Day "could be exasperating" and was "one of those people who needed careful management".

The prince's former equerry, Lieutenant Commander Alistair Graham, told the tribunal he "utterly refuted" the suggestion he relocated Ms Day to a remote room as a "punitive" measure for complaining about Mr Kefford. He denied that the royal household was "a traditional, Edwardian, stereotypical organisation" and said it was run with "a sense of inclusiveness". At an earlier sitting, the tribunal released details of a memo written by Prince Charles, in which he bemoaned the "political correctness" that led everyone "to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities".

His comments created a storm of protest, although he said it was "a travesty of the truth" to suggest he thought people could not rise above their station in life. The tribunal continues.


Patrick Barkham

The GuardianTramp

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