One of four women alleging sexual harassment by a senior social worker has admitted agreeing to go for a meal with him without telling her husband.
Victoria Preece told a GSCC conduct hearing she felt “browbeaten” by Tom Starkey, a director of children’s residential children’s provider Clifford House, after he asked her several times a day to go for dinner with him.
Preece, at the time a 27-year-old referrals manager, said: “I was persuaded by Tom that that was all he wanted to go for one meal and that would be an end to it.”
“I did not tell my husband and regret that I did not.”
Just weeks earlier, Starkey, who Preece alleges began making inappropriate comments months after they began working together in July 1995, had tried to kiss her and showed her his erection while sat at his desk.
Preece agreed to the meal to “get it over with” in Stratford upon Avon, a 90-minute drive from her home in Leominster, Herefordshire, and told her husband she was going out for the day and staying with a friend overnight.
She said Starkey told her to drive part of the way, leave her car and then he would pick her up and take her the rest of the journey. “He was very powerful and persuasive and I did not feel in a position to disagree,” said Preece.
The pair then spent six hours together in Stratford before going for the meal at 8.30, after which Starkey said he preferred not to drive after drinking and therefore could not drive Preece back.
She told the committee it did not occur to her to get a taxi back to her car. “I acknowledge it was a mistake but I felt powerless in that situation. He was my boss.”
Preece then agreed to stay in a hotel room Starkey had booked but said she did not sleep and he stayed in a chair.
The committee heard that the following month, March 1996, Starkey and Preece were due to go to a conference in York. But they did not to attend and instead spent the day looking round York and shopping.
They again stayed in the same hotel room after Starkey told her not to “make a fuss” and that he would be “embarrassed” if he was forced book another room, Preece alleges.
Starkey maintains that he and Preece were having an affair and had sex on both occasions. His counsel Carol Davis said: “You have sought to deny it because you do not wish to have Mr Preece become aware you have not been telling the truth.”
Preece repeatedly denied they had relationship.
Six months later in September 1996 she agreed to meet Starkey at another hotel, after he contacted at home saying he needed to see her urgently.
Preece told the hearing that she has never confided in anyone, including her husband, that she was being harassed by Starkey because he had repeatedly threatened she would lose her job if she complained.
She is one of four women who alleges Starkey sexually harassed them between 1995 and 2005.
Starkey denies the allegations and says he had a relationship with Preece.
The hearing, which began last Monday, continues.