Social worker ‘saw women as second-class citizens’

A senior social worker accused of sexual harassment viewed women “as second-class citizens who had no rights”, a conduct committee was told today.

Tom Starkey, formerly a director of children’s residential provider Clifford House, also had a “dogmatic and controlling” management style, it was claimed.

Stephanie Rowles, one of four women who alleges Starkey harassed them, said he pestered her between 1996 and 2001. She told the GSCC hearing that she had been forced to take stress-related sick leave as a result of Starkey’s behaviour.

On one occasion, during a work trip to Ireland in 1998, Rowles alleged Starkey had made sexual advances towards her saying “your room or mine”.

Rowles said she felt “absolutely invaded” by the comment and barricaded herself into her hotel room. Starkey’s alleged sexual harassment ended in 2001, when Rowles returned to work with a new haircut.

She told the GSCC committee: “Tom said he didn’t find me attractive anymore and I looked like a lesbian. I was relieved he didn’t find me attractive any more.”

Rowles alleged Starkey then began to undermine decisions she took in her role as senior manager. In 2005, she made a complaint against him. She said the impact of complaining had been “huge”, resulting in the loss of her 15-year career. In October 2007, she accepted a redundancy package and left Clifford House.

Rowles said: “I can completely and utterly understand why children and adults do not make complaints because the impact is huge. It is a horrendous situation.”

Rowles gave her evidence from behind a screen and the hearing was adjourned briefly when she became too distressed to read her statement.

Starkey, a former member of the Children’s Workforce Development Council, denies the allegations covering the period 1995-2005 and says he had a relationship with one of the women making the claims.

The hearing continues.

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