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Rugby star denies bullying staff

Headteacher Peter Rossborough told a tribunal he had a relaxed relationship with office workers at his comprehensive. Amanda Kelly reports.

A HEADTEACHER and former England rugby star this week denied creating a climate of bullying that drove up to 20 members of staff from his school.

Peter Rossborough, head at Ashlawn comprehensive in Rugby, Warwickshire, told an employment tribunal that, although he had "high expectations of staff", he rarely got angry.

But former school secretary Rosemary Powell, who is claiming constructive dismissal against Warwickshire County Council, said bullying made her ill and forced her to quit her job in November 1998.

Mrs Powell, who had been a secretary at the 1,450-pupil school for 18 years, told the tribunal last year that Mr Rossborough had frightened her by "staring at her" and had often shouted and criticised her.

Similar claims by two other former members of staff at the school are currently the subject of other tribunals. But Mr Rossborough, 51, described his relationship with office staff as "amicable, sociable and cheerful" and said that he had been shocked to learn of the allegations.

"As far as I was concerned, I treated them with respect and had an informal and relaxed relationship with them," he said.

He went on to describe holding drinks parties to show his gratitude to office staff and said they often exchanged CDs, books, Christmas and birthday cards.

Mr Rossborough, who won seven international caps between 1971 and 1975 and became head of Ashlawn in 1987, also described embracing all of the office staff, including Mrs Powell, 60, on national hug day.

Responding to an accusation by Mrs Powell that a habiual twitch in his right cheek reflected his high levels of anger, he said: "My face muscle twitches all the time - it is a sign of thoughtfulness, not anger."

But Mr Rossborough admitted that the atmosphere in the office deteriorated after Mrs Powell and three colleagues were turned down for a pay rise in 1997 and when a younger woman from a different department was appointed over them as office manager.He said he would have liked to give all his staff a pay rise but that financial constraints meant he could not afford it.

Mr Rossborough also denied holding a grudge against Mrs Powell after she wrote a letter in support of a colleague who was being disciplined.

He said he had no problem with people holding opinions different from his own.

He added that a quotation on his office wall advised: "I must learn to love my enemy."

One member of staff who criticised him for taking time off work to play rugby had since been promoted three times, he added.

Claire Sangster, a governor at the school for more than 10 years, denied suggestions that school managers were controlled by Mr Rossborough.

She gave examples of important decisions that had been made against Mr Rossborough's wishes, adding: "My priorities are first to the school, then to the governing body and only lastly to the head. To suggest that we were Mr Rossborough's puppets is insulting and derogatory."

Deputy head Julia Morris told the tribunal that there was a good atmosphere among staff. She said: "I have worked at the school for 10 years. It is a very supportive, exciting climate to work in. I feel I have been well-managed."

The tribunal panel reserved its judgment until a later date.

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