EXCL Commons Serjeant-at-Arms says John Bercow is victim of 'witch hunt' over bully claims
John Bercow is the victim of a "witch hunt" by disgruntled former employees trying to settle old scores, according to the House of Commons' top security official.
Serjeant-at-Arms Kamal El-Hajji mounted a passionate defence of the Speaker following a wave of allegations against him.
Mr Bercow has been accused of bullying by two of his former parliamentary secretaries.
Angus Sinclair claimed he was subjected to a string of angry outbursts, swearing and mimicry while working for the Speaker, and was paid £86,250 when he quit in 2010 in a deal that required him to promise not to speak about his experiences.
Mr Bercow was previously alleged to have shouted at and undermined Mr Sinclair's successor as his private secretary, Kate Emms, eventually leading to her being signed off sick.
A spokesman for the Speaker has vehemently denied the accusation by both former staffers.
Former Black Rod David Leakey has also claimed that Mr Bercow's behaviour behind closed doors is "unworthy of someone in such public office".
Writing in The House magazine, Mr El-Hajji - who was the first non-white Serjeant-at-Arms - said: "There has recently been article after article in the daily newspapers containing speculation and accusations regarding Mr Speaker’s code of conduct and the allegedly ‘unprofessional’ way that he treats staff and colleagues working in Parliament.
"Due to a considerable lack of evidence supporting these allegations, it seems clear to me that there is a witch hunt against him, whether it is coming from previously disgruntled staff members or ex-colleagues trying to settle old scores of some kind."
He added: "I have discussed these allegations at length with numerous colleagues and we share the same view – we feel that there is a witch hunt going on trying to discredit Mr Speaker.
"Since taking over the role of Serjeant-at-Arms in the House of Commons at the end of 2015, things have not been very easy. I was the first non-white person to hold the role in its 600-year history. It certainly felt like there were a lot of unhappy people because of my appointment, and the only viable explanation I can think of is that I am from an ethnic background.
"The support and guidance that Mr Speaker has showed me since I started is probably one of the main factors behind why I am still fulfilling this very prestigious role today.
"Parliament has never in its history enjoyed the inclusion and diversity that it does today, and this is thanks to Mr Speaker’s drive to make parliament a place for talent, regardless of race, gender, religious beliefs, disability or any other sort of discriminatory factor.
"I felt it’s important to stand up for what is right and to show support and solidarity to someone who has done such a great deal for Parliament and for the country."
Mr El-Hajji's comments are a significant boost for Mr Bercow, who has come under pressure to stand down as Speaker following nine years in the role.
The Speaker of the House of Lords, Lord Fowler, has suggested that Mr Bercow should face a formal investigation into the allegations against him.
But last month, MPs on the Committee on Standards voted 3-2 against launching a formal probe into the claims because they are alleged to have happened more than seven years ago.