Unicef UK chief resigns after raising bullying claims against chair

Sacha Deshmukh, who joined the charity in April, has had his resignation accepted by trustees, who say they are surprised to hear of the bullying claims against Douglas Alexander

The executive director of Unicef UK has resigned after less than six months in the role amid claims of bullying behaviour by the charity’s chair. 

Trustees of the charity last night accepted Sacha Deshmukh’s resignation after sources said he told them that if they did not investigate the allegations against Douglas Alexander he would be forced to step down. 

The charity said it was surprised by the allegations because it had never received any formal complaints in this area and said trustees did not recognise claims that they had failed to investigate bullying claims. 

But it said it took the allegations seriously and had therefore launched a formal review conducted by two trustees and led by an external adviser. 

It said Alexander, who was the international development secretary in Gordon Brown’s Labour government and has been chair of Unicef UK since 2018, retained the support of the board. 

It is understood that Deshmukh raised concerns with the board in August that about 10 staff had experienced similar patterns of aggressive and bullying behaviour. 

Allegations against Alexander include that he repeatedly displayed aggressive language and behaviour, including shouting at staff. 

Sources claimed the charity had to put a limit on the number of staff who had contact with Alexander to avoid more complaints being raised. 

Deshmukh considered the lack of action by the board on any of the issues, including his own complaint, made his position untenable, it is understood. 

It is alleged that Mike Penrose, the charity’s former chief executive who stepped down last year after three-and-a-half years in the role, had complaints about Alexander that were covered by a non-disclosure agreement signed on his departure. Third Sector was unable to contact Penrose and the charity did not comment on this claim. 

Deshmukh joined Unicef in April from Smart Energy GB, the government-backed campaign to help people understand smart meters, where he had been chief executive since 2013. 

He is a board member of the Fundraising Regulator and recently spent six years as chair of the international aid and development charity War Child UK. 

His departure has been announced by staff today. 

Alexander was MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South between 1997 and 2015 and held various ministerial positions in the Blair and Brown administrations. 

It is not expected that any financial settlement will form part of Deshmukh’s departure, the timing of which is yet to be finalised. 

He is understood to be disappointed to be leaving the charity, which he feels strongly committed to despite the alleged events. 

A Unicef UK spokesperson said: “These allegations come as a surprise to the board, as no formal complaint has ever been received regarding any of these issues.

“However, as you would expect, we take this very seriously and a full internal review has been launched today – carried out by two trustees and one external adviser – and they will report back to the board as quickly as possible.

“It would be wrong to discuss this further while the investigation is ongoing. Douglas Alexander continues to have the support of the board, who will continue their crucial work for children during this period while the review takes place.”

- The article originally said the review would be conducted by two trustees and an internal adviser.

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