Equalities watchdog suspends probe into EHRC chairman Baroness Falkner
Equalities watchdog suspends probe into its embattled chief Baroness Falkner following backlash to ‘witch-hunt’ – after trans activists hounded chairwoman for publicly defending female-only spaces
- Baroness Falkner publicly defended the need for female-only spaces
Britain’s equalities watchdog has suspended its £120,000 probe into its embattled boss after trans activists hounded her for publicly defending female-only spaces.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), had been subjected to ‘vile abuse’, having been the target of a slew of complaints from officials alleging ‘bullying’, ‘transphobia’ and ‘harassment’.
It comes after the 68-year-old called for a change in the law to defend women-only spaces, urging ministers to update the definition of ‘sex’ in the 2010 Equality Act to make clear it refers to biological sex rather than gender self-identification.
Her plea led to trans activists launching a ‘witch-hunt’ against her, bombarding the EHRC with complaints, with the watchdog shelling out £120,000 of taxpayer’s cash to pay for an independent barrister to investigate the claims.
But the probe plunged the watchdog into crisis, opening a rift between its leaders and the officials tasked with implementing their decisions to uphold equality law, and sparked outcry across the political spectrum since it emerged on Tuesday.
Amid a mounting backlash, the EHRC today said: ‘This investigation has been paused. This is while we seek legal advice on the impact of leaked confidential information. We must ensure its integrity and that it is fair to all parties concerned.’
The parliamentarians strongly ‘condemned’ the programme for launching an ‘irresponsible attack’ against Baroness Kishwer Falkner (pictured) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
The move comes hours after 54 cross-party peers including Lord Frost, Baron Roberts and Baroness Jenkin backed the EHRC chief, saying she had been ‘irresponsibly attacked’.
Lord Strasberger added she had been targeted for ‘shaking up the EHRC’ and Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne said she was being subjected ‘a witch hunt’ for speaking up for women.
READ MORE: More than 50 peers blast ‘unbalanced and prejudiced’ Channel 4 news report on allegations against the equalities watchdog’s embattled chairman Baroness Falkner
The Mail revealed that employees have compiled a dossier of more than 40 vague complaints against her, alleging transphobia, bullying and harassment.
The dossier bemoaned ‘a lack of psychological safety, i.e. the fear of who will be attacked next’ and workers were ‘worried that the commission is becoming an unsafe place to work’.
Other complainants were said to have taken offence with someone rolling their eyes. While another alleged Baroness Falkner had described Emma Laslett, a trans quiz contestant was at the centre of a BBC Radio 4 row for being included in an ‘all-women final’, as a ‘bloke in lipstick’.
But sources said the ‘ideologically-motivated’ moans failed to follow correct procedures, instead compiling one ‘super complaint’ hundreds of pages long.
The move saw top barrister Gavin Mansfield KC drafted in to investigate, costing taxpayers over £120,000, while the chairman has been left to fend for herself.
But Baroness Falkner has reportedly been forced to use ‘tens of thousands of pounds’ from her savings and pension to defend herself against the ‘witch-hunt’, with the equalities chief already more than £30,000 out of pocket.
But Baroness Falkner (pictured) has reportedly been forced to use ‘tens of thousands of pounds’ from her savings and pension to defend herself against the ‘witch-hunt’.
More than 50 members of the House of Lords (pictured) from across the political spectrum are believed to have signed a letter about a recent report by Channel 4 into the probe the baroness had been facing
An EHRC insider said: ‘She is getting no financial support on her side whereas the organisation has appointed at huge cost a KC – that is money that could be spent on protecting people against discrimination.’
One source close the baroness said she has had to dip into her savings and pension to cover legal bills.
The source added friends fear for the baroness’s health, saying: ‘The impact has been devastating. It is taking up all her energy and is causing an untold amount of stress.
‘We are all worried sick about how much weight she has lost and how often we see her upset and tearful.’
Since news of the allegations against the baroness broke, she has seen a groundswell of support.
This week more than 50 peers accused Channel 4 of delivering an ‘unbalanced and prejudiced’ news report covering allegations against Baroness Falkner
The parliamentarians strongly ‘condemned’ the programme for launching an ‘irresponsible attack’ against Baroness Kishwer Falkner and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
In a scathing letter to Ofcom and Channel 4, they accused the programme this week of being ‘complicit’ in an attempt by staff to oust the chairman and undermine the board.
Critics have already accused Channel 4 of Left-wing bias over Tuesday’s reporting on what it said was evidence of a toxic culture at the EHRC and the ‘consternation’ at Baroness Falkner’s leadership
Critics have already accused Channel 4 of Left-wing bias over Tuesday’s reporting on what it said was evidence of a toxic culture at the EHRC and the ‘consternation’ at Baroness Falkner’s leadership.
It used actors and silhouettes to quote a number of anonymous current and former staff with one saying the situation was ‘heart-breaking’ and another saying staff were often left in tears.
The programme also quoted from documents saying that the chairman’s ‘unacceptable behaviour’ had ‘become normalised’ while staff were bullied.
In the damning letter, the parliamentarians said: ‘As a cross party group of peers we write in the strongest terms to condemn the piece.
‘In the context of an ongoing investigation, Channel 4’s intervention breached both Section 5 of the Broadcasting Code (Due Impartiality and Due Accuracy) and Section 7 (Fairness).’
The letter recognised that the current situation at EHRC was likely to be ‘toxic’ due to the sensitive debate regarding women’s rights, sex and gender.
But it continued that given the ‘fiercely held views’, a national broadcaster should ‘at least attempt to provide both sides of the argument’.
‘Instead, in our opinion, viewers were fed a piece so unbalanced as to potentially reach the point of prejudice.
‘Channel 4 will no doubt try and defend themselves by saying that they spoke to more than 20 former and current members of staff; yet this means little when all these members of staff appeared to hold exactly the same opinions,’ it said.
A spokesperson for Channel 4 News said: ‘We stand by our reporting of the independent investigation into Lady Falkner and the culture at the EHRC.
‘Lady Falkner was given the opportunity to appear on the programme and that invitation remains open.’
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