Lord Winston sacked boss of his charity in 'sham' redundancy over whistleblowing, tribunal told

Dominic Penna
Lord Winston at the Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye, Powys - Jay Williams
Lord Winston at the Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye, Powys - Jay Williams

Lord Winston sacked the boss of his charity in a “sham” redundancy after she “'blew the whistle” on potential law breaking, a tribunal has heard.

The fertility expert and peer, aged 80, is being sued by Dyan Sterling after he announced her role would be scrapped hours after she warned the organisation risked breaking the law.

Ms Sterling was the chief executive of Lord Winston’s Genesis Research Trust, which is based at Imperial College and is the largest reproductive research organisation in the UK.

She claimed trustees were acting in breach of the law by failing to declare alleged conflicts of interest following a donation of £2 million received by the charity in spring 2020.

However within six hours of Ms Sterling then sending a formal letter in July 2020, Lord Winston launched a new paper announcing a restructuring of the charity.

Professor, medical doctor, scientist, and television presenter Lord Robert Winston speaks on the Tata stage on the seventh day of the annual Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye - Clara Molden
Professor, medical doctor, scientist, and television presenter Lord Robert Winston speaks on the Tata stage on the seventh day of the annual Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye - Clara Molden

Ms Sterling, who so far is the only person to have lost her job at the Trust, was paid in excess of £50,000 more than any other employee, and was fired via an email sent on August 5 this year after two years of employment.

The donation in question increased the reserves of the charity to more than £6 million, Ms Sterling told the tribunal, and she said it was “not normal charity practice”.

“I have previously raised concerns regarding conflicts of interest with trustees and the Chair on several occasions,” she said.

"We aim to maintain a good relationship with Imperial College. However, GRT decision making should be independent as it is a registered charity."

Government guidance published by the Charity Commission notes that trustees have an “individual personal responsibility” to declare conflicts of interest that affect them.

The official Commission guidance adds that funds and assets that are received or managed by a charity should be used “only in furtherance of the charity's purposes”.

In a witness statement, Lord Winston noted the charity had been losing money for a long period of time and claimed that Ms Sterling failed to rectify this during her tenure.

The reason for her departure was a repurposing of the Trust to work towards a “response only” mode, he said.

Ms Sterling is claiming unfair dismissal, automatic unfair dismissal as a result of making a protected disclosure and of protected disclosure detriment against both the charity and Lord Winston. A date for a full hearing is yet to be fixed.