The Government’s listening base GCHQ has been spared having its inner workings broadcast in public after a potentially embarrassing racism case was settled out of court at the last minute.
Alfred Bacchus, a 42-year-old former employee, was due to appear today morning at the Central London Tribunal Court in a racial harassment and constructive dismissal case that had caused considerable concern among spy chiefs. Officials tried to have the media excluded from the nine day hearing on national security grounds but their demands were thrown out.
Instead they have opted for the less embarrassing option of reaching a financial settlement to keep Mr Bacchus from testifying about his time at the secretive Cheltenham base which is tasked with monitoring huge amounts of data for threats the British security. The Independent understands that as part of the settlement Mr Bacchus has signed a non-disclosure agreement banning him from revealing any more details about his complaints.
Staff at tribunal courts told reporters yesterday that an agreement had been reached close to midnight on Monday evening. Mr Bacchus’ lawyer, Joe Sykes, confirmed that his client had settled but declined to give any further details.
In papers filed before the tribunal, Mr Bacchus was seeking £150,000 compensation amid claims that he was bullied and racially harassed by bosses while working as a senior press officer. Bacchus, of Maida Vale, north west London, resigned from his post in August 2011 and began his claim shortly afterwards.
He had worked on various government departments for more than a decade and moved to GCHQ in 2010 as a senior press officer. One of a small number of ethnic-minority staff employed at GCHQ, he claimed he was singled out in July 2010 when he was asked how he felt about a leaked report on racism at GCHQ.
The report was written by a Cabinet Office member after concerns were raised that GCHQ’s ability to stop the threat posed by violent Islamism was being compromised by its failure to recruit enough ethnic minority staff. The report found that black and Asian intelligence officers complained of a racist culture at the complex and criticised GCHQ for having a “very small pool” of black and Asian staff among its 5,000 workers. The report was supressed but parts of it were later leaked to the press.
In the run up to Mr Bacchus’ claim against them GCHQ issued statements refuting his allegations and insisting that the listening centre would “strongly contest” them at a hearing. However there appears to have been a last minute U-turn following the agreement to settle. A spokesman for GCHQ refused to comment on the case yesterday.