We vetoed £20k bonus for Justin Forsyth, says former Save the Children chairman

Sir Alan Parker tells the international development committee that the charity's remuneration committee had offered the bonus to the recently resigned chief executive

Sir Alan Parker
Sir Alan Parker

The former chairman of Save the Children told MPs yesterday that he and a colleague vetoed a £20,000 bonus to Justin Forsyth, the charity's former chief executive, after he was accused of inappropriate behaviour towards female staff.

Sir Alan Parker told members of the international development committee that the charity's remuneration committee had offered Forsyth the bonus.

Forsyth resigned from Unicef in March this year. He admitted having "unsuitable and thoughtless conversations" with staff.

Parker said he and the chair of the committee were aware of allegations against Forsyth, but the other committee members were not because they were deemed confidential.

"We knew it would be inappropriate for him to take it," said Parker. "That was expressed clearly to him, and he didn't take it."

Parker also said that allegations about Forsyth, who led Save the Children from 2010 to 2016, were not disclosed to Unicef when he successfully applied to become its deputy executive director in New York.

He said there was an "informal process of mediation" taking place at the time rather than a formal complaint process, and it therefore did not have to be flagged up on his reference.

Parker told the committee, which is investigating sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector, that Brendan Cox, the charity's former policy director, would have been suspended if he had not resigned in 2015.

Parker said Save the Children had appointed two senior trustees and a QC on a disciplinary panel to investigate claims of inappropriate behaviour by Cox towards women, but he resigned shortly before the panel reached a conclusion.

"It was very frustrating," said Parker. "I think it led to a sense of dissatisfaction and, for a lot of people, a sense that there had been a lack of closure on it.

"At the time of his resignation, Mr Cox was still fully denying everything and in his resignation letter was saying very clearly he felt this was unfair, he would not get proper justice. He was very, very robust on this, and literally just left.

"But from the moment we received the report on Brendan Cox – he was away at the time – we then moved to suspend him. He never returned to the building once during that process."

Cox, the widower of the murdered MP Jo Cox, admitted in March that he "made mistakes" during his time at the charity.

Pauline Latham, Conservative MP for Mid Derbyshire, asked Parker why Save the Children UK had spent £100,000 on "two sets of expensive lawyers to shut the story down".

Parker, the chairman and founder of the PR firm Brunswick, said he could not verify the sum but defended the decision to hire lawyers to respond to journalists reporting on the allegations.

"There was a lot of media interest at the time," he said. The most important thing was accuracy of reporting. At no time have there been any lawyers trying to close the story down."

Parker told the committee he was not aware of any non-disclosure agreements signed by departing Save the Children staff in the past five years.

Parker chaired Save the Children UK from 2008 to 2015. He then chaired Save the Children International from January 2016 until last month.

He resigned after the Charity Commission opened an inquiry into Save the Children UK over its handling, reporting and response to claims of misconduct and harassment by senior staff during his tenure as chair.

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