Conduct: Tom Starkey defended in sex harassment case

A former colleague of a social worker accused of sexually harassing four women told a conduct hearing today that sexual banter had been commonplace where they worked.

Barbara Sheen, who worked at children’s residential provider Clifford House said Tom Starkey, a director of the company who is accused of the harassment, had “in no way taken a lead role”.

She told the General Social Care Council conduct hearing that Starkey had “appeared quite reserved compared with some of the others,” including other male senior managers.

Sheen, a recruitment officer at Clifford House between 2000 and 2005, shared an office with Victoria Preece, one of four women who says Starkey harassed them, but said she had never heard her criticise Starkey.

Starkey “pestered for dates”

Preece alleges that between 1995 and 2005 Starkey pestered her for dates, made sexually explicit comments to her and showed her his erection.

Sheen described Preece, who has denied Starkey’s claims they had an affair, as someone who had “worn her heart on her sleeve”.

“If she had been upset we would have known about it. I did not hear her once say anything against him,” she told the hearing.

Sheen added that Preece had once criticised Starkey’s wife for not knowing which aftershave he used.

Victim “a flirt”

Giving evidence, Sheen also said another of the four women, receptionist Debbie Price, who claims Starkey made sexually explicit comments about her breasts was a “man’s woman” and “an extreme flirt”.

“In my view Debbie liked being the centre of attention,” said Sheen, adding that a number of male managers commented on Price’s clothes and looked down her top. She said other female staff had complained about the clothes and she would have worn less revealing clothes if the comments had upset her.

Drinking culture

Sheen went on to say that Clifford House had “quite a vibrant social scene and drinking culture” but she had never seen Starkey drunk.

Starkey denies harassing four female colleagues over a ten-year period.

The hearing, which began last year but was postponed last August until today, continues.

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Previous coverage of the Tom Starkey case



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