Mrs M Myers v London Early Years Foundation
Case Number: 2300047/2016
Witness Statement of #LynneKelly
1. My name is Lynne Kelly and my work address is the Bird in Bush nursery. My job is Nursery Manager. I joined LEYF Nurseries in March 2014. I have a built a career in early years for the last 15 years at the Bird in Bush and my qualifications include BA Hons in Early Years Education and Early Years Professional Status.
2. My role is to deliver leadership and management and implementation of the Early Years Foundation Stage, ensuring high quality care and learning opportunities for all children. I develop partnerships with families and hold regular parent participation events. I enable the development of all staff and have experience of performance management through the staff appraisal process. I also manage appropriate nursery budgets, monitor spending and take responsibility for all financial and administrative tasks e.g. fee and petty cash reconciliation; debt and fee collection and equipment inventory.
3. I had no knowledge of who #MerveleeMyers was nor was I made aware of her ‘serious health conditions ‘until Mervelee #informed me on 23/07/2014 ( her 1st day at Bird in Bush). ( pages R101 – 103)
4. I have knowledge of how #diabetes affects individuals as I have family history. Mervelee spoke more about her husband’s diabetes and ‘#hypoepisodes’ then talk about her own. Mervelee always presented herself well and her sickness record was very good. She presented herself to be physically fit and offered to take responsibility for #maintenance of our large nursery garden.
5. On the evening of the 20 November 2014 at 5.00pm approximately Nichola O’Halloran informed me she had observed Mervelee sitting at a table in preschool with a group of children at the table #watching Mervelee eat a banana and she also had a #bag of food under the table. #Nichola said that the children appeared #hungry as they were sitting watching her eat. I informed Nichola that Mervelee had diabetes and so her #sugar levels might be low.
Nichola shared with me that she felt it was in appropriate to eat in front of the children if the children were not eating alongside her, and I agreed that it would be better if Mervelee asked to be relieved to go eat in the staff room.
6. I suggested to Nichola to go back and talk with Mervelee to check if she was okay and suggest to her that in future if she feels #unwell and needs to eat to ask another member of staff to relieve her so she could go have something to eat.
7. Approximately 5-10mins later Nichola came back to the office very #distressed; by this I mean a bit shaky. She said that I should go talk to Mervelee as Mervelee was #shouting at her. Nichola then went on to say that she went to speak to Mervelee and asked her if she was feeling okay. Nichola said this while showing me that she touched Mervelee gently. Nichola went on to say to Mervelee next time you feel unwell or hungry you just need to ask ‘me’ whilst pointing to her own chest, Lynne or #Sao or anyone to relieve you to go to the staff room or kitchen to eat. Nichola thought that Mervelee appreciated this as she said thank you but then Mervelee starting shouting at her at waving her arms around whilst holding the register.
8. I immediately went into preschool and found Mervelee sitting down at the table with a small group of children. Her body language and facial expression was very #tense as she was obviously angry. I asked her if she was okay but she didn’t respond and was dismissive of me. I asked her what is wrong and what is going on. She said she was very angry as Nichola had said things that weren’t true. Nichola then said she hadn’t. At this point Mervelee stood up from the chair and started to walk around the table were the children were seated saying “You’re a liar Nichola” Nichola responded by saying “All I said to you was, are feeling okay, like this?” Nichola showed the action of placing her hand gently on her own arm. Nichola went on to say and “if you feel unwell you should ask me (pointing to her chest) or Lynne or Sao or any member of staff to relieve you whilst you go to the kitchen to eat.”
9. Mervelee became very #animated -walking aimlessly and raising her voice saying “You’re a liar, you got an #agenda” to Nichola. I immediately asked Mervelee to lower her voice and stop this discussion as it is unacceptable in front of the children which she did. I asked both Nichola and Mervelee if they would stay behind to address the situation as it needed to be resolved, as I did not want it to continue over to the next day. Both Mervelee and Nichola agreed.
10. At 6pm approximately, when all the children had left the building. Both Nichola and Mervelee came to the office. I opened the meeting by informing both Nichola and Mervelee that the behaviour that I had just witnessed was totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
11. I asked both Nichola and Mervelee who would like to start first, but no one said anything. I asked Mervelee if she would like to start but she was dismissive of me. I then asked Nichola if she would like to start. Nichola started by saying about noticing Mervelee eating the banana but as Nichola was talking Mervelee opened her legs wide and leaned forward. She was raising her arms up and down then slamming her hands onto her lap. As she was doing this she was raising her voice in an #aggressive tone saying “You’re a liar, you’ve got an agenda!”
12. Nichola was very shocked by this statement and was trying to reason with Mervelee, but every time Nichola tried to talk Mervelee interrupted her by repeating “You’re a liar.” “Yu came here asking all sorts of question about everything, you’ve got an agenda”. The conversation was not going anywhere as Mervelee refused to listen to Nichola at every opportunity.
13. Nichola then waited then attempted to speak again, but again was interrupted by being called a liar. Nichola turned to me and said it is pointless she doesn’t want to let me speak. Mervelee was about to say something but I stopped her. I told her to listen as we have listened to her which she did, however her body language was very tense and she was making a loud snorting sort of noise before Nichola spoke, which made Nichola stop talking. Nichola started again, she was saying that all she had said to Mervelee was “Are you feeling okay?” ……. “I took your arm gently like this” (demonstrating on her own hand)….. “Then I said just ask me (pointing to her own chest) or Lynne or Sao or anyone to relieve you etc. At this point Mervelee became very angry saying “That’s right you came into my personal space and touched me, you took my arm, and you invaded my space!” At this point Mervelee stood up and was pointing and shouting close to Nichola face saying “You’re nothing but a liar and you’ve got an agenda” Mervelee just kept saying the same thing over and over.
14. At this point Nichola became incredibly upset and was crying. She said to Mervelee “You have really upset me, I don’t have any agenda, I am not like that, and no one has ever said that about me. I was only asking if you were okay and you started shouting at me. I am sorry I have upset you.” At this point Mervelee started to cry saying “I know I appreciated you asking me if I was okay”. There was a brief silence as both Nichola and Mervelee were upset. Nichola then said again, “I didn’t mean to upset Mervelee, I really didn’t.” Mervelee was #calm by this point and Nichola was still crying, Nichola then stood up and moved over to Mervelee who was now standing, she held out her arms to saying “That’s really got me that has, no one has ever said that to me”, “I’m sorry I upset you” Mervelee and Nichola had a cuddle but Mervelee did not apologise for her behaviour to me or Nichola but I put it now to being upset.
15. I then stood up and said let’s sit back down and try to come to terms with what had happened and find a way forward. Mervelee remained standing rubbing her eyes and Nichola was very shaken up. I was aware of the time and the Mervelee’s diabetes and thought that they had resolved the issue. I asked both Nichola and Mervelee if we had come to a conclusion and if they felt that they could move on from this incident or did any of them want to take it further to which they both agreed it was over. I reminded Mervelee that Nichola is a #Deputy Nursery Manager and part of the Management team and under no circumstances should she ever speak to any manager or anyone in that manner again but Mervelee didn’t respond verbally she just gave a nod I put this down to be that she was upset and tired. I said to Mervelee that #Hilda would be in the next day to see me and she might want to talk to her once I have informed her of the incident. Mervelee said “That’s okay.” The meeting came to an end at roughly 7.30pm I thanked both of them for talking through the incident. We all said goodnight to each other and left in good terms.
16. I texted Mervelee the following message at 9.08pm which I still have on my phone:
“Hi Mervelee, I hope you got home okay and thanks for staying behind to talk everything through. It was very brave of you. Try and have a restful night and I will see you tomorrow”
17. Mervelee did not respond but when she arrived for work the next day (21st Nov 2014) I asked her if she was okay and if she had received my text to which she said “No”. I said again thank you for staying behind to talk things through, I know it was a difficult meeting but thank you for being #brave. Mervelee smiled #warmly and said “Thank you”.
18. Hilda came in later that day and Nichola and I informed her of the incident and how it was resolved. I asked if she wanted to speak to Mervelee but Hilda was happy with how the incident was resolved and so felt that she did not have to speak to Mervelee.
19. Mervelee has never raised any issues relating to Nichola before or after even when I ask her how things are going which left me to believe that we had all moved on and the matter resolved. At no point after did Mervelee speak about being unwell; in fact her attendance was good. Mervelee spoke more about her husband’s diabetes then anything.
20. Mervelee’s #contract is the same as other nursery staff; she is required to step in when needed to maintain adequate ratios and #safeguard the children. At BiB staff eat with the children at lunch time at 12.00pm and Mervelee more often than not would eat alongside the children and all staff that cover in these rare occasions would have at least 15-20min break at some point. Mervelee, like all LEYF practitioners at the time have paid lunch breaks as to be readily available if needed i.e. fire evacuation or cover. Another example of staff being asked to cover if the ratio is out at the end of their shift, they are required to stay to safeguard the children. This is written in their job contract. Mervelee always made sure that she had her lunch break.
21. Mervelee would willingly have shorter lunch breaks of her own accord when June O’Sullivan visited the nursery (which was only twice between (October 2014 and September 2015) to help set up. Mervelee enjoyed doing this and never #complained to me. On these rare occasions I would always thank Mervelee which she appreciated. At no point did Mervelee ever complain about her diabetes impacting on her duties, Mervelee was always fit and well and had an excellent #attendance record. The only time Mervelee had been late or off was to care for husbands “hypo incidents” as Mervelee would call it.
22. The only occasions that Mervelee covered in the under 2’s room was when she started at Bird in Bush and that was from 23rd/24th/ 25th July 2014. She did not have any care duties (nappy changing) due to the #medical information she shared with me about having Parkinson’s and how she suffers with #tremors. Mervelee and I agreed that she should not lift or have nappy changing responsibilities with any of the children. I informed Mervelee later on the day of 23rd July 2014 (Merverlee’s 1st day) that I had discussed her Parkinson’s implications with Hilda Miller and it was agreed that Mervelee would stay in the under 2’s until Friday 25th and would move in to preschool on Monday 28th July 2014. This was to give the practitioner in preschool (#Rumi Begum) an opportunity to inform her key children’s parents and introduce Mervelee as the new key person.
23. I have no other recollection of me asking Mervelee to cover in the under 2’s especially with no date, time or duration she had to cover. If Mervelee did cover for some reason under no circumstances would she have had any care duties and it would not have been for a whole day or even half a day it would have only been for a very short time. She may have covered sleep time but again without a date, time and duration it difficult for me to recall. I have checked our archived sleep records from 1st October -31st October 2014 and there is no evidence of Mervelee covering as there is no signature on the sleep chart. I have also checked the children’s registers for preschool (over 2’s) for the month of October 2014 and Mervelee has signed children in and out for the whole month apart from 21st -24th (Mervelee
was of sick) and 30th & 31st (training) which means she was in preschool in October 2014 not the under 2s room. Mervelee was on annual leave on 29th October 2014
24. At 5.00pm approximately I was in the office on Thursday 8 January 2015 and I was working with #Sadie and #Tesheba and they told me what they had heard Mervelee say. (page R97)
25. They were printing and labelling folders and preparing paper work for Conservatoire stay and play sessions. I said to them both that I was going to miss having them around and told them they were going to be a great team as they are motivated and eager and full of energy. I jokingly said “I bet you’re not going to miss us” and Sadie replied “no we will really miss you and the children, but she wouldn’t miss Mervelee” I questioned why she would say this. Sadie said that Mervelee says horrible things about staff” I asked her to tell me what has been said. Sadie told me she and Tesheba were in the staff room and could hear Mervelee and the #cook talking about me. She went on to say that she heard Mervelee say “I don’t have a problem with her, all I said is she’s coward, I went to the office yesterday to say I was going home, and she said these two ladies are leaving now, then she come to tell me I couldn’t leave”. (This is not unusual as I could not ask Tesheba or Sadie to stay to cover ratio as they did not have a DBS so couldn’t stay alone with the children so Mervelee (as her contract states) had to stay behind to cover ratio.
26. Tesheba said the same as Sadie that she heard Mervelee call me a ‘coward’ she went on to say that they (#Gloria, Mervelee) started to talk in hushed tones and she couldn’t hear the rest.
27. I asked both of them to put it in writing and advised them not talk about this again with each other or with anyone else. I asked them to inform me if there were any more incidents to record it and bring it to me immediately.
28. I felt that I had given Mervelee every opportunity to talk to me and express her issues with me and was willing to work through them with her. I went to Mervelee and asked if this was true, she could see that I was upset and she took my arm and led me to the side saying that it wasn’t true and that she doesn’t understand why people are saying such things. I told Mervelee that this comment (if true) was unacceptable especially in front of newly appointed junior members of staff. We both agreed to meet the next day and talk about it. (pages R98-99)
29. I felt very upset and incredibly hurt as I it was another defamation of character in front of my staff and colleagues and published online comments about me that could seriously harm my reputation and discredit my character, reputation and credit as worthiness.
30. I met with Mervelee later in the day as I believe when a group of my staff go out together in a social gathering such they represent LEYF and it was unprofessional and inappropriate to talk negatively about senior management. I also wanted Mervelee to express herself and explain how she feeling and to see if we could find ways to settle this and move forward. I did, however, mention this in her appraisal under target 4 “Continue to share LEYF beliefs and values in the wider community” we discussed that when we are outside the nursery environment we should represent LEYF positively as negative statements can have an adverse impact on the organisation. Mervelee agreed and apologised for any upset caused. (pages R98 – 99)
31. I met with Mervelee on the morning of 9/01/2015 as we had planned to do her appraisal. I asked if she was okay and if she was still okay to do the appraisal, to which she said yes. We discussed the ‘coward’ comment and comments made at the wedding about me and asked her to think about the impact this could have on someone. Mervelee again denied saying anything and she didn’t know why people were saying things. Mervelee laughed and touched my hand and said that all of this was lies and that she thought that I was a nice lady. I felt that she was being passive aggressive towards me and was trivialising the situation. I kept referring back to her appraisal which I have to say was positive, as months prior Mervelee had been supportive of me as her manager and how I had made her welcome etc. Mervelee never brought any issues or concerns regarding her wellbeing to my attention since 23rd July 2014 until Jan 2015. However Mervelee kept bringing up the wedding incident and telling me that she was saying on the day, again I felt she was mocking me and the situation. However I felt that it was unfair to judge her at the time as at this point it was all “alleged”, I also had a duty of care to Mervelee as her manager regardless of the comments and how it made me feel. As her manager I wanted to make sure that she was given a fair appraisal and benefit of the doubt. (pages R100 – 105)
32. #Flavia Foddai came to talk to me about Mervelee’s attitude towards her; she said that Mervelee had been very dismissive of her and uncooperative during the morning. I wanted to talk to Mervelee to find out what she had to say about this. I decided that any meeting I had with Mervelee I would have someone else present to protect both Mervelee and myself so I asked Remi Onifode to be there. I held the meeting on 12 January 2015. However the discussion changed direction as Remi Onifode became upset because Mervelee had mentioned that she had said “we all had a good laugh at your expense….look at her who was struck off….” This related to December 2014, Remi was asked by Hilda Miller to take on a more senior role and support Nichola O’Hallaran and Sao Banya whilst I was in hospital. I took no further action on this matter. (page R106)
33. I had booked my early year’s consultant (Stella Louis) to visit and give me feedback on how we can improve our 2 year old provision as on her prior visit she had commented that we would need to improve the environment with regards to layout for this age group. She suggested that on her next visit she would spend time in the preschool to observe practice. After her observation of preschool she gave me verbal feedback regarding the lack of staff communication and relationships in preschool. She felt that the team were working in isolation and not communicating effectively. Stella picked up on staff body language as being negative to each other (she was referring to Mervelee, although I did not share this at the meeting) #Stella felt that Mervelee did not seem interested in what was going on around her and had remained seated cutting pieces of paper with a small group of children with little interaction) for a long period of time. I have to say that Stella also spoke about the lack of interaction with one other staff member and children not just Mervelee.
P a g e |
34. I arranged an emergency staff meeting on 20th January 2015. The aim of the meeting was to address the staff about the lack of communication and poor staff relationships, and to offer everyone an opportunity to be open and honest and clear the air and to find ways forward. It was a difficult meeting for everyone because it was out of their comfort zone but it ended well. #Benedicte was apprehensive and physically shaking as she told Mervelee how she feels about approaching her but Mervelee was calm and listened well and apologised to Benedicte for making her feel this way. However Mervelee did not take on board Jyoti’s feedback about the noise levels during song time and also how she reacts when #Jyoti has to ask her questions.
35. Throughout the meeting every staff member was offering suggestions and solutions including Mervelee, it was a very productive meeting and it appeared that everyone was back on board with each other. I encouraged staff to share positive and negative things to each other at the end of the week and that it would be confidential unless it was a safeguarding concern. I informed the staff that Jyoti and Benedite in her role as room lead would be observing staff communication and interactions and would be feeding back to me. (pages R107 – 109)
36. My role during this time was to have a duty of care to all of the staff team and to mediate relationships between the team and to keep Hilda Miller informed of everything. When complaints from Jyoti Bhardwaj, (Deputy Nursery Manager) Flavia Foddai (Nursery Practitioner) and Benedicte Siewe (Nursery Practitioner & Room Lead) were received I immediately informed Hilda who then escalated to HR.
37. I was aware that this was a stressful time for everyone involved and of the impact of this on my whole staff team’s wellbeing and especially Mervelee’s wellbeing. Isabel Glen came to investigate the allegations and she interviewed me.
This statement is as true to my recollection and knowledge as possible.