GMB boss Tim Roache resigned amid allegations of “serious sexual assault” and a “longstanding culture of cover up” at the union, according to a letter seen by Novara Media.
Roache unexpectedly stepped down from the top role in Britain’s third largest trade union on Tuesday, having been re-elected to the post just five months ago.
The GMB initially claimed Roache had resigned due to ill health, but on Wednesday it was reported that the union had received a letter making serious allegations against Roache and senior staff, who it said colluded in a cover up.
The union appears to have announced an investigation into Roache’s conduct only after journalists became aware that the letter existed.
Novara Media has seen a copy of the letter, sent to GMB president Barbara Plant by ‘a group of concerned GMB staff and members’ and signed ‘GMB sisters’.
The letter asks that Roache be suspended “with immediate effect, pending a full investigation” over an allegation of sexual assault that has been “discussed with concerning frequency” in recent weeks.
Believed to have been sent on Wednesday 22 April, the letter states that it cannot vouch for the veracity of the accusation, but stresses that it must be “addressed formally, and as a matter of urgency, in order to protect the GMB’s reputation and standing”.
It is not known whether a formal complaint has been made.
It adds that a “longstanding culture of cover up” makes the “new allegation of a serious assault” seem credible to the writers, and refers to “a constant stream of rumours and stories within the union” about Roache’s alleged behaviour.
Allegations outlined in the letter include a serious sexual assault, as well as claims that Roache is “a regular and heavy user of cocaine”. In addition to being described as ‘a feature’ of the sexual assault allegation, the letter suggests that Roache’s alleged drug use may have “impacted negatively on his ability to carry out his duties as General Secretary”.
The letter claims that senior GMB officials had knowledge of the sexual assault – which it says is already being investigated by multiple journalists – and that the TUC, the Labour party, and several MPs were aware.
The letter alleges that Roache created a larger ‘casting couch’ culture in the union and accuses senior staff of having “colluded many times in a cover up of Tim Roache’s sexist and aggressive behaviour towards women, while polishing their feminist credentials”.
The GMB has more than 80 Labour MPs as members, but few publicly responded to the surprise resignation, apparently on health grounds, of an individual at the very top of the labour movement.
Keir Starmer has also remained largely silent, although a spokesperson for the Labour leader refused to back Roache on Wednesday after PMQs.
The letter concludes by saying that if the GMB chose not to investigate Roache’s alleged behaviour, which it explicitly compares to that of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, it would be forwarded to both the police and the House of Commons authorities.
But rather than acting quickly to address the concerns put forward, the GMB appears to have sat on the letter for a week and to have announced its investigation into Roache only after journalists found out about it.
On Wednesday evening the GMB released an updated statement saying:
“GMB received an anonymous letter, last Wednesday, in which a number of allegations have been made about Tim’s conduct whilst he held the office of General Secretary.
“An investigation has been launched and it is not appropriate to comment further pending the outcome of that investigation. Complaints which are brought to our attention will be dealt with appropriately in line with our policies and procedures and with appropriate regard to fairness and sensitivity.”
It went on to add detail to an earlier claim that Roache had stepped down due to illness.
The union said:
“Tim was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) some years ago, which has previously resulted in two years’ sickness absence from work. Having been signed off by medical professionals earlier this week, Tim was advised to refrain completely from work – and has now taken the difficult decision to stand down from the role permanently, indicating that he does not feel mentally or physically able to continue to lead our union.”
The New Statesman reported on Wednesday that leading GMB official Lisa Johnson played a role in Roache standing down. It added how Johnson, presently the union’s director of external relations and training, is expected to be the frontrunner once the race begins for the Labour Party’s new general secretary position, currently held by Jennie Formby.
That same article claims those around Johnson believe the controversy surrounding Roache is being used to undermine her, speculating that whoever leaked the story has also been briefing against her.
According to the New Statesman:
“Her supporters insist that while Johnson has seen the former GMB general secretary as a friend and mentor down the years, she was among the senior figures pushing for his resignation in recent days.”
Yet separate sources have told Novara Media they find it hard to believe that Johnson only became aware of the allegations very recently.
One source, who regularly engaged with Roache in a professional capacity, told Novara there was a “very tight group” of MPs and officials in his orbit.
While the source was surprised by the severity of the allegations – describing Roache as an “easygoing, jovial guy” – they were equally sceptical of the suggestion that the allegations had only recently come to light.
“I find it hard to believe they didn’t all know,” they said.
Roache did not provide a statement for publication on the allegations, but an email from his solicitor emphatically denied the accusations.
Johnson did not respond to a request for comment, and neither did the GMB.
Shortly after the union was contacted by Novara Media, president Plant tweeted:
“The safety of our people, particularly women, and the integrity of our union is paramount to me as GMB National President.
“I support a fully independent investigation into the serious allegations raised around the departure of our previous GS.”
Aaron Bastani is a Novara Media contributing editor and co-founder.
Charlotte England is head of articles at Novara Media.