In 2008, the hugely popular press officer at the British Psychological Society, Stephen (Steve) White, was sacked. After a two-year battle with his ex-employer, Stephen White committed suicide. The circumstances of Steve’s dismissal, employment tribunal and death are shrouded in mystery. As is often the case, the Society is the last place one wants to look for answers. Because absolutely nothing is forthcoming.
A previous post, the Catalogue of Shame, discusses the long history of dysfunctional organisation that is the British Psychological Society. The episode posted here is one more page of the whole sordid saga.
With sadness, I pay tribute to Stephen White, a loss and valued friend, to psychology and to scientific journalism.
According to an article, ‘ Always cheerful and positive’, in The Psychologist by Carole Allan, Honorary General Secretary:
“Ann [Colley] took up the position of Chief Executive from the beginning of September 2008, after giving up her academic post at the University of Leicester. So what was the Society like when Ann took over the reins?
Financially the Society was in poor shape, with a significant financial deficit. This involved having to make 30 staff from the Leicester office redundant to cope with the shortfall.
There was much discussion about what to do with the BPS journals operation, whether to leave it in-house or to seek a partnership with a publisher. The Society had also purchased a new London office in what seemed a rather downmarket part of London, on the wrong side of Old Street.
The Health and Care Professions Council had also come on the scene. Their role in registering practitioners, approving practitioner postgraduate courses and pronouncing on fitness to practise issues removed these functions from the Society. The fear was that practitioner members would not pay to belong to the regulatory body as well as a professional body. The predictions were for a wholesale desertion of practitioner members.
This latter prediction is exactly what has happened. Members have been leaving the Society in their droves.
The CEO of the British Psychological Society, Ann Colley, resigned from her position in September 2017.
Stephen White’s Death
On 23 August 2010, Stephen White, the Director of Communications at the British Psychological Society, died following 24 years’ service. It is reported that Stephen died at home. The HM Coroner recorded an open verdict on Stephen’s death and referred to a document from Stephen that said: “Sorry, no fight left.”
STATEMENT FROM THE BRITISH PSYCHOLOGICAL SOCIETY
STATEMENT FROM THE NATIONAL UNION OF JOURNALISTS
Stephen White was Director of Communications for the British Psychological Society with some 24 years’ service. During this time, Stephen was a key figure in raising the BPS’s profile and establishing it as an institution of international renown and repute.
As your 2011 annual conference gets under way, many of you will remember Stephen as a man of warmth, good humour and a consummate public relations professional. He was also a man of principle and gold badge member of the National Union of Journalists.
Stephen died tragically at home on 23 August, 2010. The HM Coroner recorded an open verdict on Stephen’s death and referred to a document from Stephen that said: “Sorry, no fight left.”
Stephen’s death came in the wake of his dismissal by the leadership of the BPS and following a dispute over his employment conditions. He legitimately challenged an order to have his pay cut by 15 per cent but had his case and appeals brushed aside. His stand brought the clear displeasure of those in positions of power within the BPS.
With the full backing of the NUJ, Stephen lodged an Employment Tribunal claim for wrongful and unfair dismissal. The NUJ proceeded with the case even after Stephen’s death because of the importance we attached to defending his good name and challenging injustice. That hearing was due to have taken place on April 18 but did not proceed after a settlement was offered by BPS.
That deal is subject to confidential terms but we think this tragic affair need never have happened with good sense and fair play. Stephen’s death was virtually ignored by senior members of the BPS, and his dedication and service all but unrecognised.
We think that is wrong and believe BPS members need know the circumstances of Stephen’s passing so that his tragedy is not left unnoticed or unremarked.
If you wish to raise this with BPS chief executive Ann Colley, you may like to email her at email@example.com.
If you would like to pass on your comments about the contribution Stephen made to the society please email me, Chris Morley, NUJ Northern & Midlands Organiser at firstname.lastname@example.org.
APPEAL TO MEMBERS
I am emailing you following the circulation of a letter [see above] from Chris Morley of the NUJ, concerning the death of Stephen White formerly Director of Communications at the BPS. The letter was circulated at the BPS conference last month and a few of us are anxious not to let this matter drop. Thus we are seeking support for our petition for an inquiry into how this was handled by the BPS. We hope to get a reasonable number of email responses supporting this in time for the AGM later this month (24 June).
If you are willing to support this please respond as stated below. However, if you wish to discuss it further please email me or ring me on …
Please feel free to also pass this on to others who may be concerned about these issues. Apologies if you have already received this from other sources.
PETITION FOR AN INQUIRY
The tragic death of Stephen White and the BPS silence around this matter are in stark contrast to the purpose and integrity of our profession. The BPS is a membership organization and as such is accountable to members for its managerial and executive actions.
Our integrity as a profession and our commitment to the society we serve demands that we require a robust, psychologically sound inquiry into these events, centred upon the transparent, objective collection of evidence with the findings open to scrutiny without fear or favour.
Psychology is a profession that has built its knowledge, standing and contribution through a strong commitment to the value and ethics of objectivity, inquiry and evidence and, at its core, has a commitment to furthering the mental health and wellbeing of humanity. Surely the loss of a man’s life deserves a response that is consistent with our highest professional standards.
Should you wish to express your support for this petition, please send an email to Fiona.Jones@beds.ac.uk
putting ‘BPS petition’ in the subject line. Also, please feel free to add any observations, thoughts or comments that you wish in your response
If any of your professional colleagues would be interested in either knowing about or supporting this petition please do feel free to forward this email.
Prof. Harriet Gross
Head of School of Psychology
University of Lincoln
A book published by Cambridge University Press: “Successful Science Communication: Telling It Like It Is”, edited by David J Bennett and Richard C Jennings (2011) contains a dedication that reads:
The BPS archive record states:
In 1985 after the creation of the coordinating Standing Committee on Communications and the appointment of a Director of Information (Stephen White) – the Society started a more proactive approach to parliamentary and policy affairs. Not only did they ask for advice of House of Commons Select Committees for advice on the best way to present consultation responses they also started a series of proactive briefing. The first of these was held in Parliament on March 1985 (as part of the launch of book) on The Psychological Aspects of Nuclear War. The Standing Committee on Communications discussed topics for future briefings and as a result a ‘Parliamentary Team’ or ‘Group’ was created comprising Guy Fielding, James Thompson and Stephen White.
The Society has failed to respond to the request from members in 2011 for an inquiry into the tragic death of Stephen White. This is one more example of the Society’s recidivistic failure of duty of care to employees, members and the general public.