Unite has called on trustees to rethink appointing Jeremy Hughes as chief executive because the Samaritans is in the “early stages of recovering from a toxic bullying culture”.
The trade union issued a statement this morning following an investigation by the Guardian into the Alzheimer’s Society, where Hughes has been chief executive for the last ten years.
The Alzheimer’s Society denies using non-disclosure agreements inappropriately.
Unite said that the Samaritans should reverse its decision to appoint Hughes because the reports were “deeply troubling”, and that they would make it difficult for him to address issues related to bullying at the Samaritans.
The union said it has recently represented Samaritans staff who had been bullied by former members of its management team.
Peter Storey, Unite regional officer, said: “The revelations about Mr Hughes are deeply troubling.
“Given the fact that the Samaritans is in the very early stages of recovering from a toxic bullying culture which has damaged the lives of many of its staff, Unite does not believe that Mr Hughes is the right person to heal the problems the charity has experienced.
“Unite believes it is incumbent on the trustees at the Samaritans to rescind the appointment of Mr Hughes as its chief executive and instead appoint someone who has a track record in tackling a toxic bullying culture.
“Unite’s members at the Samaritans are absolutely dedicated to the excellent work that the charity undertakes and they deserve to perform their roles in a healthy and respectful environment.”
A spokesperson for Samaritans said: “Samaritans doesn’t recognise the claims made by Unite. The welfare of our staff and volunteers within a positive and inclusive working culture is of the upmost importance to Samaritans.”
Timeline of Samaritans chief executive appointment
Ruth Sutherland had been chief executive at Samaritans since 2015, and her departure was announced last year.
Samaritans advertised the chief executive post in October 2019, with the salary listed as negotiable depending on experience.
In January 2020 the suicide prevention charity announced that Hughes would become its next chief executive.
He had announced his departure from the Alzheimer's Society in September 2019, and in December 2019 the Society announced that Kate Lee from CLIC Sargent would become its next chief executive from April.
At the time, the Alzheimer's Society emphasised that the announcement was not connected to any of the claims of bullying that were being made on social media via an anonymous and now-deleted Twitter account, and had “been planned for some time”.
Commenting on Hughes' appointment in January, Jenni McCartney, chair of Samaritans, said: “I am delighted to welcome Jeremy to Samaritans. He brings with him a wealth of experience from the voluntary sector, and a passion for what we do. Over the last five years, Samaritans has achieved some significant positive changes under Ruth’s leadership, including improvements in our infrastructure, service offering, visibility and influence.
“Jeremy joins at an exciting time for us and I look forward to working with him to build on our recent successes to ensure that we achieve our mission that fewer people die by suicide.”
The Charity Commission has said it will investigate concerns about the Alzheimer’s Society’s approach to dealing with staff grievances and that it is now looking into a complaint that was initially made in 2018.
Editor's note: 26 February 16.57
This story has been updated to include comment from Samaritans once it was received