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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Anna Isaac and Ben Quinn

City of London police open inquiry into alleged sexual misconduct at CBI

At least a dozen women employed by the CBI have claimed to have been victims of some sort of sexual misconduct.
At least a dozen women employed by the CBI have claimed to have been victims of some sort of sexual misconduct. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

City of London police have launched an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct at the Confederation of British Industry in the wake of the Guardian’s reports of complaints against senior figures at the organisation.

Britain’s most prominent business group is battling to secure its future after more than a dozen women employed by the CBI claimed to have been victims of various forms of sexual misconduct, including an allegation of rape during a staff party.

In a day of turmoil, the CBI announced on Tuesday morning it had dismissed its director general, Tony Danker, who had previously been suspended following separate allegations regarding his conduct, which were revealed by the Guardian last month.

The CBI said in a statement on Tuesday: “Tony Danker is dismissed with immediate effect following the independent investigation into specific complaints of workplace misconduct against him. The board wishes to make clear he is not the subject of any of the more recent allegations in the Guardian but has determined that his own conduct fell short of that expected of the director general.”

The police force said that after the more recent reports, it had approached the CBI and that its investigation was at an early stage.

A spokesperson said: “The City of London police takes all acts of sexual misconduct and violence against women and girls extremely seriously.

“We approached the CBI following media reports and our investigations are at a very early stage. It would not be appropriate to comment any further at this time.”

The allegations have plunged the CBI into its deepest crisis since it was formed by royal charter in 1965. The organisation, which represents 190,000 businesses, is facing a boycott by its own members and the politicians and regulators it seeks to influence. The government has suspended any further engagement, and meetings between the CBI and civil servants are currently paused. The group has cancelled all forthcoming events, including its annual dinner, after the Bank of England governor, Andrew Bailey, withdrew as a speaker.

In a statement released on Tuesday morning, the CBI apologised to the victims of what it said were “serious failings” at the organisation, and expressed “revulsion” at the stories it had heard about misconduct.

As well as dismissing Danker, who is understood to have left his £376,000-a-year post without any severance pay, it has suspended three members of staff, and appointed a board member to oversee what it said would be a “root and branch” review of its culture.

No 10 told reporters on Tuesday that it would not resume relations with the lobby group until the conclusion of an independent investigation by the CBI’s law firm, Fox Williams, was complete.

Fox Williams shared phase 1 of its findings, which focused on Danker’s conduct, with the board last week. In a second phase, the firm is investigating the more recent separate allegations that relate to other senior figures.

A Downing Street spokesperson told reporters: “His departure is a matter for the CBI, but we continue to expect any allegations to be taken seriously and for appropriate action to be taken in response.

“While the CBI continues to investigate we will pause engagement by ministers and senior officials with the CBI.”

Danker hit back at the decision to sack him on Twitter, saying he was “shocked to learn this morning that I had been dismissed from the CBI, instead of being invited to put my position forward as was originally confirmed”.

He claimed that many of the allegations against him had been distorted, but that he recognised that he “unintentionally made a number of colleagues feel uncomfortable” for which he was “truly sorry”.

Danker is to be replaced as director general by the CBI’s recently departed chief economist Rain Newton-Smith. She left to join Barclays Bank last month as a managing director overseeing strategy, policy and sustainability.

The former Bank of England staffer will have to reassure the lobby group’s members – whose fees account for the vast bulk of the CBI’s income – that efforts to change its culture will produce results.

The CBI said: “It is already clear to all of us that there have been serious failings in how we have acted as an organisation.”

“We apologise to the victims of this organisational failure, including those impacted by the revulsion we have all felt at hearing their stories. Nobody should feel unsafe in their workplace”.

The CBI also confirmed that it is liaising with the police as the next phase of its inquiry into other complaints against other senior figures at the organisation continues, and it intends to cooperate fully with any police investigations.

Labour’s shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, said developments at the lobby group were “incredibly concerning”.

Reeves told reporters in Brighton: “Obviously what is happening at the CBI is incredibly concerning and it’s important that these reviews are able to take their course.

“Labour, like the government, have cut our ties and are not currently doing any engagement with the CBI whilst these inquiries are ongoing.”

Jürgen Maier, a former Siemens UK chief executive who served on the CBI’s president’s committee until 2019, has said that Tony Danker’s sacking should be a “wake up moment” for all leaders.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “There’s clearly not been the right culture, I think this is a wake up moment to us all. We’ve seen far too much of this in organisations up and down the country, whether it’s in the police, whether it’s in government, and of course in business.

“For any leader this is a wake up moment to make sure that we do root and branch reviews of our organisation and make sure that we’ve got the cultures in place that don’t allow these sorts of behaviours to happen.”

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