British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was on Monday at the centre of a growing row over allegations that he “bullied'' his staff after an anti-bullying helpline confirmed claims in a new book about his treatment of people working for him in Downing Street.

It was alleged that he swore at staff, shouted at them and on one occasion grabbed a senior adviser by his lapels. Junior employees such as secretaries and telephone operators were particularly vulnerable to “volcanic'' eruptions of his temper, it was stated. According to claims in a book by The Observer chief political commentator Andrew Rawnsley, things got so bad at one stage that Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell was forced to give a “pep talk'' to the Prime Minister and “calm down frightened duty clerks, badly-treated phone operators and other bruised staff”.

The National Bullying Helpline confirmed that it had received complaints of harassment from Downing Street staff. Its chief executive, Christine Pratt, said she did not know the exact number of people who had called to complain and questioned Downing Street's official denial on the issue.

There was confusion as to whether the complaints were specifically against Mr. Brown or generally against a culture of bullying at No. 10. Asked if anyone had accused Mr. Brown personally, Ms. Pratt said : “Absolutely not, and nor have we said that Gordon Brown is a bully.”

But she added that the people who had contacted the charity worked “directly with him”.

“Our concern here is the public statement from No. 10 of denial,” she said.

Downing Street said it had “rigorous, well-established procedures” for “staff to address any concerns over inappropriate treatment or behaviour”.

As the row escalated and Labour dismissed the allegations as a “smear” campaign in the run-up to the general elections, due in May.

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