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Tom Watson’s office in racial discrimination row

A member of the deputy Labour leader’s office has been accused of bullying

One of Tom Watson’s senior advisers was allegedly earmarked for redundancy because she was the only “black person on the team”, according to documents seen by The Independent.

A complaint has been filed and accepted by the central London employment tribunal against the Labour Party by Mr Watson’s former political adviser Sarah Goulbourne, who has accused a member of the deputy Labour leader’s office of racial discrimination, harassment and bullying. Ms Goulbourne, who was the only person of Afro-Caribbean origin working for Mr Watson, began her role in 2015 and was made redundant in 2018 when Labour Party headquarters withdrew funding for Mr Watson’s office.

A total of seven members of staff lost their jobs, six of whom were white, but Ms Goulbourne claims she was forced out of her job due to her ethnicity. Ms Goulbourne claims there was a “history of being treated less favourably” because of her ethnicity. She also alleges she was warned by colleagues that Baroness Alicia Kennedy, Mr Watson’s chief of staff, “might” be “a racist” and was “gunning for her” – allegations that Baroness Kennedy denies.

Ms Goulbourne also alleges Baroness Kennedy had always spoken to her in an “aggressive” manner, in significant contrast to the “jovial way” in which she apparently interacted with other colleagues – something she attributes to her race. On several occasions in 2016 and 2017 Baroness Kennedy apparently suspected that Ms Goulbourne had leaked information to the media and allegedly told other members of the team the political adviser could not be trusted, the documents say. She instructed them to avoid speaking to Ms Goulbourne about a number of the activities in the office, the document claims.

Ms Goulbourne claims that she was prevented from walking through the Labour party conference hall in 2016 with Mr Watson and that she was not permitted to be present for the deputy Labour leader’s main conference speech the year after. When Ms Goulbourne approached Mr Watson directly about the issue he said he believed there was “no good reason” for the treatment, the documents say.

A source close to Baroness Kennedy said she “completely refutes all the allegations”, which are “untrue and highly damaging”. The source suggested Baroness Kennedy only heard of these allegations when approached by The Independent and had not been informed by the Labour Party. The source also suggested that the information had been leaked in an attempt to damage Mr Watson’s reputation.

“She is very upset and alarmed that the first she heard of them was via a leak to the media, rather than being informed by party HQ who apparently knew of them for many months. This is clearly a targeted leak aimed at damaging Tom Watson’s office,” the source said. “Sarah was an important member of Tom’s team and everyone was very upset when Labour HQ cut the office funding and insisted that Sarah, and another Bame member of Tom’s staff, had to re-interview for their jobs. Alicia and Tom did everything they could to try and change HQ’s minds, but despite their protestations, the party made Sarah redundant.”

A Labour Party source strongly denied Baroness Kennedy’s claims she was not informed of the allegations prior to be contacted by The Independent.

During Ms Goulbourne’s redundancy process she was interviewed for another role in Mr Watson’s office alongside another individual who was from a Bame background. Ms Goulbourne has claimed the other applicant had significantly less experience.

The case accusing the Labour Party of racial discrimination, harassment and unfair dismissal has been accepted by the central London employment tribunal and will be heard in September of this year.

When approached by The Independent both the Labour Party and representatives for Sarah Goulbourne declined to comment.