A FORMER employee of SNP rising star Joanna Cherry has accused the MP of double standards after it emerged she is at the centre of a bullying probe from within her own office.

Iona Paton, who worked as the MP’s constituency case worker, has today spoken out about claims of bullying and homophobia and questions over employment practices at Cherry’s office.

Paton told The Herald on Sunday she felt “people should know the truth” about working for Cherry, and added: “I couldn’t stay silent anymore when she started saying she was the victim of online bullying, when she knew she was dealing with all these complaints of bullying against her and [office manager] Fraser.

“It’s hypocritical to say the least.”

The revelations come days after Cherry spoke out against bullying and harassment towards her online, including a death threat.

READ MORE: Ordeal of abuse and death threats for Joanna Cherry

She had to have police protection as a precautionary measure after the abuse, which included the posting of a cartoon with a gun and the words “Do it”.

The fact that the message was posted alongside details of Cherry’s weekly surgery caused alarm.

The QC, who was elected as Edinburgh South West MP in 2015, has denied the allegations by several of her former employees and dismissed them as “politically motivated smears”.

Since her election she has also been the subject of a complaint by a senior Westminster SNP employee which she has also described as “spurious and politically motivated”, with no further action being taken after an investigation.

Professional mediators had to be brought in by the party’s chief whip Patrick Grady to try to resolve the issues after Cherry appointed a solicitor.

In the latest row, Cherry is accused of condoning alleged bullying of employees by her office manager and friend Fraser Thompson.

Thompson was recruited to the job after his wife, Sarah Thompson, went on maternity leave. The couple are now understood to be both employed by Cherry.

In a series of complaints submitted to the House of Commons HR team and seen by The Herald on Sunday, Thompson, who also describes himself online as Cherry’s “chief of staff”, is claimed to have “outed” one employee, and after they requested he stop talking about his sexuality, started discussing specific sex acts common with gay couples.

He is accused of bullying several other employees, with one complaint stating he referred to two colleagues as “a couple of ditsy blondes” saying a mentally ill constituent had a “victim complex” and calling another staff member a “cybernat”.

READ MORE: What Nicola Sturgeon knew about employee's complaints

Thompson is claimed to have reprimanded staff for arriving in the office at 9.01 and 9.02am, told them they had to work back the time taken off for medical appointments and scolded them if they spoke directly to Cherry, instead of through him. Several of the complaints claimed the MP had done nothing to address their concerns over alleged bullying, saying she dismissed Thompson’s alleged actions as “banter”.

One complaint submitted to House of Commons officials in August 2018 states: “Ms Cherry has allowed these events to happen, refusing to condone Mr Thompson’s actions and further contributing to them herself.

“In a one-to-one with Joanna, with no other colleagues present, I was spoken to aggressively and asked to cite specific examples of Mr Thompson’s referencing of my sexuality … I noted that whenever Mr Thompson spoke about me to other people, he would repeat things that I had said in a feminine manner.

“Ms Cherry immediately dismissed this as ‘banter’… Ms Cherry then informed me that if I could not accept this as banter, we would be adopting a formal ‘no banter’ policy in the office.”

Another complaint states: “All of the genuine concerns I raised with Ms Cherry were rebuffed, as she told me ‘bullying goes up the chain as well as down’.

“The [trade union] wrote to Joanna requesting she investigate the allegations against Mr Thompson. Without carrying out any investigation, Ms Cherry replied saying the allegations were ‘malicious and unfounded’.

“I am completely disappointed in Joanna Cherry ... as Justice and Home Affairs spokesperson and a representative of the SNP I truly believed she would at least take us seriously, but she has done nothing and seemingly couldn’t care less.”

Another allegation concerns Cherry’s “aggressive” stance towards her staff when an employee raised concerns about Thompson and his wife’s employment.

A complaint states: “I queried the legalities of employing Ms Thompson’s husband ... Ms Cherry was extremely aggressive. I was told to delete my email, that I could receive a formal warning for raising these grievances and that her priority was to protect her reputation and that she wouldn’t stand for attacks from within.”

Paton, who was dismissed from Cherry’s employ around two months after she made her complaint, said she had a lack of faith in the complaints procedure, which was revised last year.

READ MORE: SNP MP Joanna Cherry given police protection after social media 'death threat’

A report by Dame Laura Cox concluded that previous procedures to deal with bullying allegations were “inadequate”, with Cox saying bullying had “long been tolerated and concealed” within the House of Commons and by MPs.

The complaints involving Thompson and Cherry were lodged with House of Commons human resources in August 2018, before independent investigators were brought in in line with the new procedures.

Nine months later, the complainants are still awaiting an outcome.

Paton said: “I’m frustrated with the process, the fact it has taken so long and I’m not expecting anything at all to come out of it.

“SNP HQ are aware of it; we even spoke to the SNP’s lawyer Ian McCann about it. I wrote to Nicola Sturgeon as I was so concerned, but she basically said she couldn’t do anything. She did say she would ensure the issue was handled swiftly, but clearly it hasn’t been and I was dismissed two months after I contacted her.

“I just want people to know the truth about what it was like, and what the SNP can be like. I’ve now left the party because of this.

“When we were still there, we said this isn’t right and she just said if it came out she would sue us for defamation. She doesn’t expect people to take her on.”

Another former staff member of Cherry, who has also complained, said: “I don’t want to impact the investigation but what happened in that office is wrong. There were eight employees Joanna has had, five or six have written letters of complaint – almost all her staff.”

Cherry yesterday told newspapers that she was known for her “personal integrity” and would challenge anyone who tried to attack her reputation.

When contacted by The Herald on Sunday, she said: “[The Westminster SNP employee] has never been employed by me, [they are] employed by the SNP Westminster group leader.

“The complaint [they] made against me is a historic matter. I believe it was spurious and politically motivated. After I instructed a solicitor the Westminster Chief Whip agreed to appoint a professional mediator. After the mediator had heard my side of the story as well as [the Westminster SNP employee] no further action was taken.

“I am not and never have been a bully. Fraser Thompson is not a bully either. I believe these to be politically motivated smears.”

When asked about employing Thompson and his wife, Cherry said she had nothing to add.

Thompson said: “In common with all people managers, in my role I have to deal with difficult situations. I am confident that staff were treated appropriately and managed in line with House of Commons HR policy and practice.

“I am pleased to have had the support of the House of Commons senior HR adviser in dealing with any staff management issues and have followed their guidance at all times.”

READ MORE: Ordeal of abuse and death threats for Joanna Cherry

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, which handles complaints against MPs said: “Allegations of bullying and harassment, if received, are handled confidentially. We neither confirm nor deny receipt of complaints about named MPs.”

A House of Commons spokesman said: “Parliament’s Behaviour Code makes clear the standards of behaviours expected of everyone in Parliament, whether staff, members of the House of Lords, MPs or visitors. There is zero tolerance for abuse or harassment.

“The behaviour code is supported by the independent complaints and grievances scheme which has been in place since July 2018. The scheme operates on the basis of absolute confidentiality.

“Therefore we cannot provide any answers about any complaint that may or may not have been made.”