‘Ayatollah’ golf case: All clubs told to implement anti-bullying measures following ‘saucy scandal’
A firm of solicitors has said every golf club in the UK must have an anti-bullying policy in place after a venue was fined £50,000 in an extraordinary case that has been dubbed the ‘Ayatollah of Aldeburgh’.
Aldeburgh Golf Club in Suffolk, at the heart of the town that has the oldest average age (55) of residents in Britain, was last week at the centre of a national media storm, and one the Daily Mail labelled ‘a saucy scandal … that will undoubtedly strike a chord with anyone who has ever crossed that implacable force of nature, the golf club hierarchy.’
Almost unbelievably, it involved a member of staff having an allegation of bullying rejected and being told that she had not been physically hurt.
The club, which was founded by the family of feminist and medical pioneer Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, in 2012 appointed Bill Beckett, now 69 and formerly the secretary of Hadley Wood Golf Club in Hertfordshire, as its secretary. Mr Beckett had a reputation for a dictatorial approach to management that resulted in him gaining the nickname the ‘Ayatollah’ at Hadley Wood.
Beckett’s assistant secretary, Margaret Chadwick, who had been at the club for four years, received a written warning within just a few weeks of him joining the club after, it has been stated, that he ‘had set goals for her to achieve without any thought as to whether they were achievable’.
Shortly afterwards she complained to the club’s captain that she felt she was being ‘criticised and bullied’, citing a dozen examples.
The club captain rejected the complaint and said: ’I do not regard Bill Beckett’s behaviour to you as bullying and there has been no physical violence towards you.’
Mrs Chadwick then approached the club’s president, who told her: ‘You have a somewhat nervous disposition and my perception is that you can become flustered under pressure.’
One month later Chadwick claimed she overheard a 73-year-old lady member tell Beckett that ‘I love squeezing your bottom’ and that she saw the two behaving inappropriately towards each other. This followed rumours circulating the club that something had happened between the pair at a club party.
Chadwick then approached the lady’s captain to reveal the information, stating that the club did not want a repeat of a similar set of events involving a previous secretary and another member at Aldeburgh.
Beckett and the lady member vehemently denied the allegations that were then presented to them, and shortly afterwards Chadwick was suspended and escorted off the premises. The club accused Mrs Chadwick of spreading the rumours to discredit Mr Beckett, and she was then fired for gross misconduct for making ‘offensive allegations’.
Mrs Chadwick, who is married to a solicitor, then approached an employment tribunal.
This month judge Robin Postle awarded Chadwick £50,000 and launched a scathing attack on the golf club.
He said the captain’s response to her allegations of bullying displayed “amazing ignorance, naivety and total misunderstanding of bullying and harassment” and added: “one cannot get away from the feeling that the claimant was the victim of nothing short of a witch-hunt.” He also stated that the club failed to properly investigate the alleged inappropriate conduct.
“The case serves as a warning to golf clubs about not following proper procedures and not having suitable policies,” said Patrick Stewart from TWM Solicitors.
“Should a grievance be raised, the employer should hold a meeting and investigate the matter. They should also communicate the outcome of the decision to the employee in writing following the meeting without unreasonable delay. Employers should ensure that they have suitable grievance and anti-bullying policies in place which are followed in every instance.
“Even if the golf club had not dismissed Mrs Chadwick, their failure to deal with her grievance could have amounted to a breach of the implied duty of mutual trust and confidence, entitling her to resign and bring a claim for constructive unfair dismissal.
“In this case, even if the result of the investigation had found Mrs Chadwick’s allegations to be false, dismissing her was unlikely to be a reasonable response on the employer’s part. If action was needed, this should have taken the form of a warning.”
Tim Rowan-Robinson, captain of Aldeburgh Golf Club, said the club now wants to move on.
“The outcome of the tribunal hearing was disappointing and was not the result we and our legal team had expected. The club has now settled Mrs Chadwick’s claim,” he said.
“This has been a trying time for all involved and we now want to put the matter firmly behind us.
“We value our staff highly and their welfare has always been of paramount importance to the club and its members.”