The incident, believed to have taken place early one morning in 2009, has long been talked about in council circles, but journalists have struggled to stand up the allegations.
But Sunday Politics London’s Andrew Cryan has revealed that chief executive Mary Ney held three meetings over the incident with the cleaner, one which also featured Roberts, but no minutes were taken, and the leader did not apologise.
Barbara Clarke, the cleaner who was allegedly injured by Roberts, died last year. But her son, Jerome Clarke, told Sunday Politics London: “Mum accidentally opened the door on him, not realising someone was there. He woke up in a tantrum, and started shouting at her.
“Mum was all apologetic… [and asked] ‘if you don’t mind I can collect the keys and come back when you’re ready’.
“Again, he just went beserk, went into a tantrum and just threw the keys at my mum. The keys were almost going for her face, she put her hands up to protect herself and the keys smashed onto her wrist. It was sprained and bruised.”
Ms Clarke complained to Greenwich Council, which told Sunday Politics London her account did not tally with her son’s account, but it would not explain how.
But it claimed that Ms Clarke had changed her version of events, saying that she had left her keys in Roberts’ office, and he had tossed the keys to her over the balcony, but she lost her balance after catching them – a version of events her son disagrees with.
“She was upset and stressed and felt nobody was listening to her,” Jerome Clarke told the programme.
Roberts would not appear on camera, but said in a statement he “categorically rejected” Jerome Clarke’s version of events.
The incident has been widely-rumoured for years, but this is the first time the story has been told in public. Earlier this year, this website was passed an anonymous statement reiterating the allegations, but when I tried to stand it up, I hit a wall of silence. Sunday Politics London has been working on the story for some weeks.
Elements of the incident have been hinted at in public. In October 2010, former Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Webbewood once asked Roberts in a full council meeting if he had ever slept overnight in Woolwich Town Hall. He said no.
Most Labour councillors have been reluctant to face the issue.
One who challenged Roberts on the issue changed his tune after he was made mayor. Greenwich West councillor David Grant challenged Roberts for the leadership, telling his colleagues he “wouldn’t be the kind of leader who throws keys at cleaners”.
But since spending a year as mayor in 2012/13, Grant has become one of Roberts’ most loyal public defenders, yelling “cheap!” when a reference was made to his behaviour at last October’s council meeting. Sunday Politics London wanted to film that meeting, but were refused permission by current mayor Angela Cornforth, who also threw out a motion designed to highlight intimidation in the council, asking that it investigate the possibility of choosing a leader by secret ballot.
Labour’s shadow minister for London, Tooting MP Sadiq Khan, told the programme that if any allegations were made of bullying, then they should be investigated.
He told presenter Jo Coburn: “Allegations of bullying are very serious, and if they are made they will be investigated.
“There is no place in politics, or any other way of life for bullying. And if there are allegations, then please – if somebody’s watching this, please make them to the Labour Party.”
But it is unclear what has happened to a standards committee investigation into this, and Greenwich Council is refusing to investigate a possible conflict of interest involving a charity Roberts chairs which is indicated by the voicemail.
Indeed, there are rumours that Greenwich Council’s Labour group, headed by chief whip Ray Walker, has decided to pursue the leak of the voicemail, rather than the bullying behaviour it reveals.
Following Sadiq Khan’s pledge on television today – and Jerome Clarke’s damning testimony – hopefully now councillors will see sense, see beyond their own self-interest, and do something to finally clean up the issue.
5.45pm update: I should point out, of course, that the London Labour Party was first alerted to bullying in Greenwich Council when Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander referred the voicemail claims to it two months ago. The London Labour Party then passed the issue to the Greenwich Council Labour group – nothing has been heard of the complaint since.
Greenwich residents who want to know more about how the council is handling bullying claims can submit a question to next week’s council meeting by emailing committees[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk before noon this Wednesday.
The report can also be seen on BBC iPlayer until 15 December. The London edition of the programme can also be seen on BBC Parliament tonight at midnight. Story updated at 3.10pm to include the town hall question.