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Former Health Minister told to apologise to Tynwald

Onchan MHK found to have breached standards of conduct

Former Health and Social Care Minister Rob Callister has been told he must apologise for his 'inappropriate conduct'. 

It follows a report from the Tynwald Standards and Members’ Interests Committee into his dismissal on 10 November last year.

The apology is expected to be made at next month's sitting of the court.

Mr Callister was found to have breached standards of conduct by engaging in repeated inappropriate comments which undermined the right to dignity at work of civil servants.

It also found that he did not not act in a manner consistent with the principle of honesty.

Claims made by civil servants and Department members Michelle Haywood, Joney Faragher and Tanya August-Hanson were investigated by Dr Mark Egan who holds the interim role of chief executive at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Dr Egan was appointed on 12 December 2022 and submitted his report on 8 February 2023.

The investigation cost £3,000 to undertake. 

Allegations

In November 2022, Chief Minister Alfred Cannan requested Mr Callister's dismissal be investigated following ‘comments made in the media and Tynwald’.

It followed a dramatic exit for the former Health Minister, who penned an open letter hitting out against his departmental members just a day before he was sacked.

The letter included claims he 'had a political team who were challenging and unsupportive' - something they denied.

Subsequently, the allegations investigated by Dr Egan included:

  • Mr Callister bullied Ms Faragher, including by directing an aggressive comment at her in a meeting about a decision not to issue a press notice
  • Inappropriate comments were made to staff in the department, amounting to bullying
  • Mr Callister misled a senior civil servant about the views of the departmental Members, in order to encourage that civil servant to consider their position
  • Miss August-Hanson told a staff member to leave meeting "in a rude and abrupt way"
  • Dr Haywood used an expletive in relation to Mr Callister
  • The departmental Members bullied Mr Callister

Conclusions

It was concluded that neither Miss August-Hanson or Dr Haywood breached Tynwald standards of conduct.

Of the allegations towards departmental Members, Dr Egan says: "Considering all of the information I have received about the conduct of the departmental Members during the period leading to Mr Callister’s dismissal, I conclude that they did not engage in repeated inappropriate behaviour which could reasonably be regarded as undermining Mr Callister’s right to dignity at work and, accordingly, they did not breach Tynwald standards in relation to this matter."

Meanwhile, the three departmental Members said that Mr Callister’s behaviour towards them amounted to bullying and harassment.

In particular, they drew attention to what they saw as aggressive and bullying behaviour in meetings, particularly in terms of talking over their contributions and not listening to their points of view.

Specific allegations were made about Mr Callister’s behaviour towards Ms Faragher, particularly in relation with regards to a meeting about the decision not to issue a press notice.

Ms Faragher alleged the former-Health Minister raised his voice and told her “I don’t want to lose my temper today”, which "sounded threatening and was very disrespectful".

Dr Haywood corroborated this story, describing the comment as “extremely intimidating”.

In his summary, Dr Egan concluded: "I am of the view that Mr Callister did behave inappropriately towards Ms Faragher in making a threat that he would lose his temper if he continued to be questioned about the decision not to release a press notice in respect of the inspection of dental practices. Even if the remark were made calmly, in my view it would be perceived as aggressive and Mr Callister must have realised this or should have done so.

"This incident was an affront to Ms Faragher’s dignity at work. Mr Callister’s lack of awareness of the impact of his words, combined with what one departmental Member described as a ‘bull in a china shop’ approach to managing his political team, was unfortunate.

"However, I do not consider that this incident was of sufficient gravity to constitute a breach of Tynwald standards of conduct."

"If I am going to the gallows over this, I will take my friends with me"

With regards to the allegation that Mr Callister 'misled a senior civil servant about the views of the departmental Members', Dr Egan concluded he breached Tynwald standards of conduct by "engaging in repeated inappropriate comments which undermined the right to dignity at work of the civil servants hearing those comments".

The departmental Members and the civil servants interviewed all made reference to ways in which they considered Mr Callister had spoken inappropriately to staff in the department.

Dr Egan states he was told that Mr Callister referred to civil servants as his “friends” and made repeated remarks along the lines of “if I am going to the gallows over this, I will take my friends with me”.

Given that a number of senior staff had left the department over the Ranson affair, and morale was low, these comments were described as upsetting to staff, who feared that they would be next to go.

One civil servant claimed that they had had to reassure more junior staff about their positions.

Another said that they had cleared their desk on more than one occasion, sure that Mr Callister would take steps to remove them.

Mannin Line

The report references an appearance made by the Onchan MHK on Mannin Line on 12 December 2022.

During this appearance, Mr Callister opened up about his sacking publicly for the first time.

He said he was asked to sign a 'scripted resignation letter' but after conferring with friends and family, he decided to force the chief minister to remove him from the Council of Ministers.

The committee report states that the Clerk of Tynwald wrote to all Tynwald Members on 17 November 2022 stating that “after a referral to the Committee has been made, no further public comment should be given”.

By appearing on Manx Radio, the Committee found Mr Callister breached Tynwald standards of conduct by failing to co-operate with an investigation.

It concluded that by commenting in public on matters under investigation, he defied clear instructions, saying: "The fact that he was repeating information which was already in the public domain is no defence."

Response: Mr Callister

Following the publication of today's report, Mr Callister has released an extended statement:

In it, he refutes the charges he was dishonest and denies that some of the aforementioned events took place.

He says that he has "serious concerns that a single line that may or may not have been said in a private discussion between senior civil servants and their Minister, in which no minutes or notes were taken, has been taken completely out of context".

The Onchan MHK goes on to say: "Over the past six years I have probably worked in more Government Departments than most current Members of Tynwald, and therefore I am fully aware of the protocols and procedures expected when working alongside civil servants.

"Even when those relationships have become strained and difficult due to the nature of the role we undertake as publicly elected members from time to time, at no point would I ever get involved in any employment or disciplinary issue concerning a member of staff."

Response: Dr Haywood

In the case of Dr Michelle Haywood, the report states: 'Directing an expletive term at a political colleague in a meeting attended by civil servants is an affront to dignity at work, even if there are mitigating circumstances.'

It finds, however, that given the context in which the incident occurred, Dr Haywood did not breach Tynwald standards of conduct.

Despite this, she has been invited to 'reflect on the appropriate use of language in formal settings.'

The Rushen MHK took to social media after the report was published:

The full report can be found HERE.

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