Cllr. Anna Mbachu, accusations of bullying, and an embarrassing Employment Tribunal verdict

Anna Mbachu is Labour councillor for Grove Green ward, chair of the Health and Housing Scrutiny Committees, and Deputy Group Leader.

Her current public profile is low-key. But in the past, she has certainly had her moments.

Who after all can forget the fracas in her Mayoral year of 2009-10, when she acted in an ‘aggressive and threatening’ way towards her chauffer, Leroy Telfer, in front of numerous people at a Town Hall meeting, and as a result received a ticking off from the Council’s Standard’s Committee?

Naturally, having suffered such an indignity, Ms Mbachu was contrite, and apologised.

However, new evidence has emerged which suggests that, past expressions of remorse or not, she may not have fully learnt her lesson.

Employment Tribunal case no. 3347625/2016 of May 2017, heard before Judge Heal, focused on the claim of ex-Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Heath NHS Trust employee, Alison Stack, that she had suffered constructive unfair dismissal, in part because of Ms Mbachu’s ‘bullying’.

The detail is as follows. In 2015-16, Ms Stack worked at a facility where Ms Mbachu was the service manger, and the case turned inter alia on how she had been treated following a debilitating illness; the ensuing allocation of her leave entitlement; and the fate of a grievance that she had subsequently lodged.

At the hearing, Judge Heal heard directly conflicting evidence from Ms Stack and Ms Mbachu, and had to adjudicate between them ‘on the balance of probabilities’.

In the event, he vindicated Ms Stack, and in passing made several unfavorable observations about Ms Mbachu, the most significant of which are worth repeating in full:

‘Once again therefore, Ms Mbachu delegated the call. She did so although she was the senior manager present, she knew the claimant was expecting to return to work on the following Monday, she knew that there were concerns about whether it was appropriate for the claimant to do so, and there was real reason for her to check the impression…that the claimant was unable to use her left hand. All of those were good reasons for Ms Mbachu to take charge of the situation, demonstrate concern for the claimant and make time to speak to the claimant herself even though she was under pressure to deal with the induction of new members of staff. I find that she was instead avoiding the claimant on this and the previous occasions when the claimant had been attempting to speak to her’ (Para. 49).

‘There is a conflict of evidence between the claimant and Ms Mbachu about what happened next. On balance, I prefer the claimant’s account. I have not, thus far, found Ms Mbachu’s evidence reliable’ (Para. 54).

‘Ms Mbachu’s explanation in her witness statement for the change in agreed leave dates does not make sense…The explanation given by Ms Mbachu in the grievance investigation is confusing and the investigator found it so at the time’. (Para. 71)

‘Instead, Ms Mbachu avoided the claimant’s telephone calls, avoided speaking to her when she could have spoken to her…and instead of attempting to find a solution, simply sent a message that the claimant should not come back to work. She did therefore prevent the claimant from returning to work. In all the circumstances I have set out she did so without reasonable and proper cause’ (Para. 97).

‘I have preferred the claimant’s evidence to that of Ms Mbachu about the events of 21 December. I have found that Ms Mbachu did have an aggressive demeanour when she told the claimant to leave the premises on 21 December 2015. I do not doubt that she was surprised and even frustrated to find that the claimant had come to work when she had been told not to do so. However, that is not reasonable or proper cause to tell an employee, “pack your things and leave right now” or to escort an employee off the premises’ (Para. 99).

‘I have found that Ms Mbachu did change the claimant’s annual leave without reason…I have rejected Ms Mbachu’s reasons for doing so’ (Para. 100).

‘Taking into account the facts that I have found, I consider that the respondent was in repudiatory breach of contract. Without reasonable and proper cause, Ms Mbachu avoided and failed to communicate with the claimant about sensitive matters vital to the claimant’s return to work so as to enable the claimant to return to work at an appropriate time…Ms Mbachu then failed to demonstrate the sensitivity needed and instead reacted with hostility in a manner which – looked at objectively – was humiliating for the claimant’ (Para. 104).

In fairness to Ms Mbachu, Judge Heal was also critical of Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Heath NHS Trust as a whole, finding in particular that its treatment of Ms Stack’s grievance left much to be desired.

But, this accepted, the fact remains that Ms. Mbachu’s behaviour fell well below that expected of her, and in some respects brings to mind her earlier treatment of Mr. Telfer.

That her evidence to the Tribunal was then found to be (at least in part) unreliable adds a further regrettable dimension.

Whether as a consequence Ms Mbachu should consider her position as a councillor is a moot point.

Her supporters will no doubt stress that this latest infelicity took place well away from the Town Hall, and was unconnected to her civic and political duties. They may add, too, that having been a nurse for some years, Ms. Mbachu had only just graduated to junior management, and thus in some ways was still learning the ropes.

Her detractors will retort that she is a senior figure in Labour’s ranks, who should be beyond reproach in all aspects of her life; and add that anyway those who resort to humiliating an unarguably vulnerable junior, and then in legal proceedings fail accurately to recall in full the circumstances of their actions, are unsuited to public office. They may harp on the similarity between two cases discussed, and see in them a pattern.

One thing is certain. When interviewed, Ms. Mbachu habitually presents herself as a role model, a female politician from a small ethnic minority who has broken the mold and ‘strongly opposes oppression’.

Fine words, of course, but as case 3347625/2016 unequivocally demonstrates, ones that to an uncomfortable extent now ring rather hollow.

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