Greenwich council forced to apologise after accusing member of public of calling employee a “monkey”, a “slave” and a “zombie”

By Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter

The local government watchdog has ordered Greenwich council to apologise to a member of the public accused of calling a staff member a “monkey”, a “slave” and a “zombie” during a heated phone call, after the authority was found to have no evidence to support the claim.

It comes after the woman, who the Ombudsman called Mrs X, had called the council asking for a Care Act assessment – used to decide the level of health care assistance residents are entitled to – for herself and her husband.

The Ombudsman noted both Mrs X and her husband (Mr Y) have had a lot of contact with the council, with both having physical health problems – Mr Y’s conditions including use of a wheelchair and mental health problems.

The council had claimed that during a July 11 phone call with a council assessor, Mrs X had used abusive language after becoming frustrated.

The authority alleged she had “raised her voice and called the assessor a monkey, a slave and a zombie who only listened to managers” before saying she would complain, and hanging up.

The council subsequently closed her assessment, citing that she had refused to participate.

Mrs X denied the allegations made against her, and asked for a transcript or recording of the conversation – to which the council responded they did not record calls or keep transcripts.

In further correspondence with the council she denied calling her assessor any names and demanded to know why her and her husband’s assessments had been delayed.

The council said it could not substantiate the claims and apologised, while Mrs X escalated her complaints to the Ombudsman – who backed the resident’s case.

“Mrs X says she would never use the indirectly racist language attributed to her. She said the accusation humiliated her and caused her deep distress. She wants the council to amend its records,” the Ombudsman also found.

The Local Government Ombudsman ordered the authority to apologise, as well as pay the woman £450 in restitution after the ordeal – although this offer was declined by the complainant.

Cllr Miranda Williams, cabinet member for health and adults’ social care, said the authority had accepted and agreed to all findings made by the Ombudsman.

“This included accepting fault for a council officer who incorrectly accused the complainant of using offensive words,” she said.

The council issued a full written apology to the complainant, the ward member for Eltham West added.

“We also agreed to issue a financial remedy for this as stipulated by the Ombudsman, however, the complainant rejected this,” she said.

“On the basis of this the Ombudsman confirmed with the council that we should not pay the complainant the financial remedy.”

Pictured top: Greenwich council’s offices

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