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Confusion surrounds position of NHS legal chief accused of ‘inappropriate’ behaviour

Published on: 21 Dec 2021

The government has refused to clarify the position of NHS Resolution chair Martin Thomas – who stepped down from his role as head of the Charity Commission last week after allegations of ‘inappropriate behaviour’.

Mr Thomas was appointed chair of NHS Resolution, the Department of Health and Social Care agency responsible for dealing with the service’s legal disputes, on 1 January 2021. At the time, NHSR said: “The appointment will involve a time commitment of two to three days per week. Remuneration for the role will be at a rate of £63,000 a year.”

Mr Thomas was due to take up the same role at the charities watchdog on 27 December. However, he stepped down last Friday after information about his resignation from a previous employer was revealed.

The Times revealed Mr Thomas had stepped down as chair of Women For Women International UK in May after a bullying investigation. This was the third formal misconduct allegation he had faced since 2018.

An external investigator commissioned by WFWI concluded that Mr Thomas’ behaviour was not “deliberate bullying but that the complaint was partly upheld insofar as aspects of the chair’s conduct were judged to have been inappropriate”.

The Daily Telegraph, which described Mr Thomas as “a friend” of the prime minister, reported that “government sources claimed that Mr Thomas did not disclose any of the allegations during the recruitment process for head of the regulator [the Charity Commission]”.

HSJ asked NHS Resolution if Mr Thomas would remain as its chair. The organisation referred HSJ to the DHSC which said: “We can’t comment on this case”. HSJ returned to the NHSR spokesperson, who replied: “I’m afraid I will have to refer you back to DHSC.”

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Thomas said: “I have stepped aside [from his role as chair of the Charity Commission] to protect the recruitment process and integrity of the role. I had not disclosed the outcome of a recent investigation into my conduct at a charity that I had chaired. I thought I had been exonerated in full and as a result, had nothing to disclose. But as I found out only this week when the charity contacted a national newspaper, certain aspects of something I once said had been deemed inappropriate.”

He added: “These episodes together are examples of something that is on the rise across the charity sector and perhaps society as a whole: staff forcefully using rules on workplace behaviour to challenge existing hierarchies… A culture of complaint is unhealthy in any organisation, and some charity managers, and the trustee boards they report to, could do more to hold the reins between these competing forces in the workplace.”

A WFWI employee made an earlier complaint, which was not upheld, about Mr Thomas sending a photograph of lingerie to a female colleague. He said it was part of a case he was making that the charity, which helped victims of sexual violence in conflict zones, should not take a financial donation from the lingerie firm Victoria’s Secrets. In an article he wrote for the Daily Telegraph he concluded: “Posing with female underwear in your hands, no matter how serious the point you are intending to make, will never turn out well”.