The charity boss who said she had been contacted by Downing Street staff complaining of bullying is to be represented by the publicist Max Clifford after being attacked for making the claims, it has emerged.
Christine Pratt, chief executive of the National Bullying Helpline (NBH), kicked off a major political spat after revealing that her charity had received calls from members of Gordon Brown's office. However, four of the five patrons of her charity subsequently resigned, arguing that Mrs Pratt's revelations had undermined the confidentiality of the charity's helpline.
Unwelcome media attention also turned on Mrs Pratt herself, revealing links between her charity and a business run by her husband, as well as her own involvement in an employment tribunal. Trustees of the charity met last night to discuss the row, while the Charity Commission is investigating several complaints made against the NBH.
Mr Clifford said last night that he had provisionally agreed to work with Mrs Pratt free of charge, provided she could offer proof that she had received emails from members of staff working within Downing Street. "My first instinct is there are always two sides to a story," he told The Independent. "Right now, it is a very hot story and as to the reality of it, there are only one or two people who really know what has gone on. This is a very serious subject."
The publicist, who has represented the likes of Mohamed al-Fayed and Jade Goody, said that he had instructed both Mrs Pratt and her husband, David, to gather all the evidence they could supporting her public claims. They are reviewing thousands of emails sent to the charity.
Mrs Pratt entered the row on Sunday evening after Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, made a robust defence of Mr Brown in the light of separate allegations of bullying by the Prime Minister made in a book by the journalist Andrew Rawnsley. However, Mrs Pratt subsequently seemed surprised by the backlash she created. She has since stated that none of those who contacted her charity accused Mr Brown of bullying, adding that he may not have even been aware of their complaints.
Sarah Brown leapt to her husband's defence yesterday, arguing he was a "decent man" who was not guilty of bullying or harassing staff. "What you see is what you get," she told GMTV. "People have heard me talk about him and they probably know everything that I would have to say about him. I know him as a strong, hard-working, decent man and he isn't anything else."
Gaffe-prone immigration minister Phil Woolas yesterday described the charity boss as a "prat of a woman". Mr Woolas said that Mrs Pratt's comments against the Prime Minister had clearly backfired on her. "It's a tough business, politics. It's 18, 20 hours a day that people like the Prime Minister work," he told London radio station LBC 97.3.
"I think this attack on him by this prat of a woman down in – where's she from, Swindon? – I think that's backfiring on her."