The chief executive of top Home Office contractor Mitie has apologised to the home secretary personally after a series of racist WhatsApp messages shared between Mitie staff emerged.
The messages, revealed by the Sunday Mirror, include derogatory references to Chinese people. Mitie admitted to the Guardian that it received complaints two years ago about the messages but failed to “escalate them”.
The posts come from some Mitie staff who were members of a 120-strong WhatsApp group called “escorts meet and greet” set up in mid-2019. The group has recently been closed down.
One remark posted in the group was a comment next to a photo of a Chinese restaurant with a closed sign shortly after the first Covid lockdown in March 2020. A Mitie worker had written underneath the photo: “Closed due to slanty eyed cunts”, a reference to reports that Covid originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Another photo shared on the group showed migrants in a dinghy with the caption “Where Gary Lineker’s house?”, a reference to the Match of the Day star housing a refugee.
It is understood that eight members of staff have been suspended after the WhatsApp revelations.
An internal email from the chief executive of Mitie, Phil Bentley, circulated to staff after the scandal about the WhatsApp messages broke, seen by the Guardian, states: “I have apologised to the home secretary personally over the weekend and assured her that no stone will be left unturned during this investigation.”
He adds in the email that Mitie has let the Home Office down. Alongside his apology to Priti Patel he also apologises to “the vulnerable people being escorted from UK immigration centres” and to Mitie colleagues.
Mitie is one of the government’s top 40 strategic suppliers, which between them have secured billions of pounds of contracts. According to analysis by Tussell, which publishes information about government contracts, Mitie has been awarded 400 public sector contracts since 2015, worth £2.55bn.
The Home Office previously said its professional standards unit was investigating the racist WhatsApp messages. A Home Office source said there was no further update about the investigation at this stage.
It is understood that none of the staff suspended following the WhatsApp disclosures have yet undergone disciplinary hearings but Bentley’s email suggests that dismissal is a foregone conclusion.
He asks staff to join him in condemning the people who posted racist messages and says: “They have let me and you down and when they are dismissed they will have let their families down.”
A previous email to Mitie staff from Bentley, thought to have been sent in June 2020 after a Big Equality at Mitie summit, states: “It’s evident that we sadly still have colleagues within our business who have been and continue to be subjected to racism and discrimination. This must stop now.”
A Mitie spokesperson said: “Our 75,000 hardworking colleagues have worked tirelessly throughout Covid. The behaviour of these few individuals goes against everything we stand for and will absolutely not be tolerated in our business.
“We have invested heavily in our diversity and inclusion programmes to ensure that every colleague understands the high standards we expect of them and we encourage them to raise any concerns via our whistleblowing procedures so that we can take appropriate action.”