Case 001 - Charity Shop

Female, 55, married. London. Voluntary sector.

I'd worked in this small charity for 11 years, and most of my colleagues had been there for over 5 years. We worked well as a team, the salary was minimal, but we enjoyed the work and often worked more than our contracted hours because we believed in what we were doing.

At the end of 1999 a new female director was appointed. The previous director, a kindly gentleman with plenty of managerial experience, had reluctantly retired having reached the age of 70. The management committee, made up of good but inexperienced people, appointed a 35-year-old woman who seemed to have a glowing record of achievement in the charity sector. However, it was clear from day one that there was something odd about this woman.

She swanned around the premises as if she owned the place, and whilst she made many of the right noises, something wasn't right. With hindsight I now realise she was appraising all the staff, seeing who she could con and who was likely to see through her. The former, mostly the younger and less experienced workers, fell for her charm. However, four of us, all older and more experienced than her, she identified as a threat. She immediately set about making our lives difficult, mainly, I think, to encourage us to leave.

When that didn't work, she started reorganising everything. It was clear, though, that she didn't have the faintest idea how to run a small charitable organisation like ours. We knew, she didn't, and she knew we knew she didn't. After about a month, she seemed to make it her life's ambition to get rid of the four older more experienced staff. I realise now that it was a question of control; those she could control kept their jobs, those she couldn't, she wanted to get rid of.

She would give orders one day, then contradict them the next. When we queried her, she became aggressive and accused us of having poor memories and distorting the facts. She was in charge and what she said went. If anybody didn't like it they could leave.

Everything had to change. We'd been doing this work for too long, she claimed, and it was time to get up to date and up to speed. The fact we had honed our work routine from years of experience cut no ice with this woman. In fact, nothing cut any ice with her - it was like talking to a brick wall.

Within a month, three new committees had been established. The Witch, as she had become known, chaired two of them and her protege, a young immature man whom she had bewitched, was appointed chairman of the third committee. All three had grand names but to this day no-one can identify any achievement or result from these meetings. The word "policy" was banded about at every opportunity though. The committees seemed to be way for The Witch to get her name mentioned in influential circles within the city.

After four months, dissent was rife and what was formerly a happy co-operative atmosphere had become poisoned. People were suspicious of each other and refused to talk. In fact the director had banned talking in some parts of the premises "so that people could concentrate on their work and get it done faster and with fewer mistakes". What mistakes there were was never defined.

The breakthrough came when a colleague found Tim Field's web site, Bully OnLine. She brought in a copy of his profile of the serial bully and highlighted everything that applied to The Witch. Almost everything applied. Charming, narcissistic, arrogant, Jekyll & Hyde, liar - suddenly everything made sense. She was disordered, dysfunctional, aggressive, paranoid and more besides - in short, somebody with all the hallmarks of a personality disorder. I remember a colleague had jokingly referred to her as a psycho, and this off-the-cuff remark turned out to be uncannily accurate.

The realisation that she was not a normal person like the rest of us was just the start of a long bruising battle. It would have been so much easier just to leave but we four oldies decided we had to do something otherwise she'd carry on doing this to other people. We established quickly that legal action would be difficult but nevertheless we started down that route with a grievance procedure. The Witch outmanoeuvred the management committee at every stage, and was able to deflect every allegation whilst blaming just about everyone, except herself, for the failings of the charity, which by this time were apparent and mounting.

After eighteen months of hell, with two early retirements, a near-suicide, a dismissal and a court case, the management committee finally admitted that The Witch might not have been a wise choice after all. Although no-one knows the precise details, it was rumoured that she got a good reference and a promise not to take further action against her. I think the management committee were scared of her and had no idea what to do.

To cut a long story short, the glowing record that she arrived with turned out to be grossly embroidered. The previous charity had told her to leave and given her a reference to expedite her departure and to avoid legal action and bad publicity. It turned out this had happened several times in her career; in fact it appears she's careered from job to job, amassing an impressive CV of names, but always leaving under a cloud, although nothing was ever recorded on paper.

We've lost many good people because of The Witch, but the saddest part is that the charitable work we've achieved in the last two years is a fraction of what we used to do. A new director is in the process of being appointed but most of the staff have become disaffected and many are planning to leave. It's a great shame, and a great waste, especially as this is all down to one person - who, we hear on the grapevine, already has another charity lined up to take her on.

(Minor details have been altered to protect identities)

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