The Samaritans has announced that Jeremy Hughes will not become chief executive in May.
Trustees issued a short statement this afternoon (26 February) following an investigation in the Guardian about the Alzheimer's Society, where Hughes is currently chief executive.
The Charity Commission has said it will investigate claims that the Alzheimer’s Society has spent up to £750,000 on payouts to staff who agreed to sign non-disclosure agreements. The Alzheimer’s Society denies this figure, and denies using non-disclosure agreements inappropriately.
A spokesperson for Samaritans said: “In light of events over the past week, the board of trustees has decided that it cannot proceed with the appointment of Jeremy Hughes as chief executive, which was due to start in May. This decision is not in any way based on the allegations themselves, which Samaritans is not in a position to judge. It will begin a new chief executive recruitment process in due course.”
When asked if it planned to review its recruitment process, Samaritans said: “At the time of his appointment, Jeremy was viewed as an outstanding candidate who was selected following a rigorous recruitment process. A large number of high-calibre candidates applied from a wide field and those short-listed went through several in-depth interviews with members of our board of trustees.”
Earlier today the Unite trade union had called on trustees to rethink appointing Jeremy Hughes because the Samaritans is in the “early stages of recovering from a toxic bullying culture”.
Unite said 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.
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.”
Hughes resigned from the Alzheimer's Society in September 2019.
The Society had emphasised that his resignation 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”.
In December 2019 the Alzheimer's Society announced that Kate Lee from CLIC Sargent would become its next chief executive from April. An Alzheimer’s Society spokesperson said: “Jeremy Hughes is currently assisting with the handover and transition with Kate Lee who is joining us shortly as chief executive from CLIC Sergeant as previously announced.”
In October 2019 Ruth Sutherland announced she would leave Samaritans in March of this year. Her job was then advertised, and applicants were told to apply by 25 November 2019.
The advert said Samaritans would take initial references before final interviews on Monday 9 December 2019 and further references upon offer.
The information pack for potential candidates had said that the board wanted its next chief executive to develop Samaritans into a learning organisation with an inclusive culture that encourages behaviours of support, trust, aspiration and respect.
In January 2020 the suicide prevention charity announced that Hughes would become its next chief executive.
Editor's note: 26 February 16.44
This story has been updated to include additional comment from Samaritans.