Lying in her Luxembourg hotel room, waiting for sleep to fall, Louise Crabtree heard the familiar ping of a WhatsApp message.
But while the sender told her he loved her and signed off ‘sleepies tight’, Louise’s heart didn’t lift as she read it. It wasn’t from her boyfriend, who was 350 miles away, near Hampshire, where single mum Louise, 49, lives with her three teenage children.
Instead her heart sank, because the message was from her boss, Marc Bandemer, a married businessman, father and grandfather ten years her senior, with whom she was in Europe for work. It would be followed in the early hours by another.
‘Seems you’re asleep,’ this message read. ‘I am leaving the door slightly ajar and will sleep on the floor if you would like to sleep on the right side of the bed to have a better night’s rest.’ He appeared to be inviting Louise into his hotel bedroom – indeed, into his bed – in the middle of the night.
This incident in February 2022, Louise claims, was the ‘final straw’ in a prolonged and stressful campaign of sexual harassment to which she was subjected during the 14 months she worked as an executive director for Bandemer’s company, Integer Wealth Global.
On that same trip, she says, he followed her into shops, accompanied her swimming and complimented her ‘great little body’ in a swimsuit – behaviour that she says made her feel ‘degraded’ and ‘uncomfortable’.
At no point, she insists, did she encourage or reciprocate it. Bandemer had taken to calling Louise ‘honey’ and ‘girl’ in text messages, referred to her as his ‘second wife’ in business meetings and presented her and her children with expensive gifts, she insists, they felt unable to refuse.
One of these was a diamond solitaire ring; another a Hugo Boss coat.
By March 2022, he’d even suggested buying a ‘love nest’ in Cyprus together, calling it ‘our house’. ‘Looking back, I feel groomed by him,’ Louise says. ‘It got worse and worse, to the point where I was completely overwhelmed and under his control.’
Last October, an employment tribunal upheld her complaint, filed after her dismissal from the company in June 2022, finding she had been a victim of sexual harassment at the hands of Bandemer.
Though he refuted Louise’s version of events, a substantial body of evidence – comprising WhatsApp messages and video-call recordings – backed her up, with the tribunal finding Bandemer to be a ‘forceful individual who expects to get his own way’.
A fortnight ago, he was ordered to pay Louise nearly £100,000 in compensation for her financial losses, and the mental and emotional strain she endured.
When we meet at her detached house in the market town of Romsey, Hampshire, it’s clear Louise is still feeling the toll of the past few years. She is teary, often anxious and doesn’t sleep well.
Her doctor thinks she may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as she finds herself repeatedly asking the question that will be on many readers’ lips: why did she, an articulate businesswoman who doesn’t seem afraid to speak her mind, put up with it for so long?
‘I blame myself,’ she says. ‘I feel like I should have been stronger and I’m angry at myself for not standing up to him sooner.
‘I lie awake at night thinking about what I should have done differently. But you can only understand it if you were in my position at that time. As a single mum with three kids, I was depending on my job. I was getting paid well.
The threat of losing that job, of not being able to support my family – that was great enough for me to keep going. There were several times when I thought, ‘I’ll suck it up for a few more months, then I’ll walk.’
Louise joined Integer Wealth Global with plenty of experience. Privately educated in Bristol, with a psychology degree from Plymouth University, she moved to Tokyo in 1996, where she taught English for two years before moving into finance.
She met her husband, from whom she is now legally separated – in Japan and they had their first child there, before moving to Hong Kong and then Canada, where they had two more children.
But when her marriage broke down in 2019, Louise decided to uproot her family by returning to the UK to be near her mum, stepdad and sister.
‘It was the right thing to do, but it was a very difficult and emotional time,’ she says. Determined to rebuild her professional life, she was put in touch with Bandemer, 59, the founder of an investment management company, by a work contact – and a few online messages soon turned into a job offer.
She found herself having lunch with Bandemer, his wife Lioni and two friends, who were also company directors, at his home in Basingstoke.
‘It was all very informal, but I liked that,’ she says. ‘He was friendly, with lots of banter and a great sense of humour.
‘He was also very religious, talking about God and telling me how much he loved his wife. I felt like this was someone I could trust.’
Louise signed two contracts with the company in April 2021, one detailing her role as a strategic development executive; the other outlining the commission she would earn from bringing in work.
She was, she says, ‘excited’. But things began to sour after only a month. ‘I quickly realised that Marc brought his ‘banter’ to meetings,’ Louise explains. ‘He’d say completely inappropriate things about me in front of clients, like ‘she’s so naughty, we need to get the whips and chains out’ and ‘don’t you think she’s gorgeous?’ He thought I should be flattered. I felt it detracted from my skillset and undermined my professionalism.
‘I tried to address it [a transcript from a Microsoft Teams meeting in May 2021 attests to this] by asking him to stop the flattery. I said other people had noticed it. ‘He said, ‘I don’t care two rocks about what other people think. I’m way too arrogant for that.”
Bandemer’s behaviour continued unabashed. He told Louise she was ‘easy to become addicted to’, ‘could be a top-ranking fashion model’ and complimented her ‘gorgeous feet’ and ‘candy toes’. In another message, he told her: ‘You’re a gorgeous woman and any red-blooded single guy would be fond of you’.
She claims he took pictures of her without her consent, and once encouraged her to join a video call while wearing her dressing gown. His over-familiarity caught the attention of her partner at the time, who was furious to find a text message from Bandemer addressing Louise as ‘stunner’.
‘I explained that he didn’t mean it, and somehow found myself defending Marc, when really I agreed that it was inappropriate; I was just trying to get on with my job,’ she explains. ‘It caused significant problems in my relationship. I won’t say it ended it, but things changed for the worse and we broke up in the summer of 2021.’
Things then escalated at Louise’s birthday party in July that year. Bandemer, whom she says had had too much to drink, tried to pull her on to his lap in front of all her friends and family.
‘I felt shocked and humiliated,’ Louise recalls. ‘I pulled and pulled away. I was trying to ignore it and laugh it off, but everyone had seen. His wife was there. The last thing I wanted my family to think was, ‘Well, your boss is hitting on you. Is that why you got the job?’
Louise told Bandemer how upset she was and pleaded with him never to behave that way again.
She says he dismissed her objections, then weeks later issued her with a disciplinary notice, accusing her – wrongly, she insists – of insubordination. ‘He’d decided to reprimand me, because I pulled him up on his behaviour,’ she claims.
By December that year, however, things had intensified once again.
Bandemer began outlining lavish Christmas presents he wanted to buy Louise and her children, now 13, 16 and 18, including a smartwatch for her son and £200 in cash for her daughters.
Louise protested, but admits they did accept smaller tokens from Bandemer. ‘It seemed appropriate to exchange gifts to each other and the other directors. I gave some to him and his wife, too.’
In January, Bandemer discovered Louise was dating again. Her current partner, Andy, she says, was fully supportive of her plight, even helping her compose messages to fend off her boss’s advances.
The news left Bandemer ‘really upset’, Louise remembers. ‘He wanted to question Andy, to talk to him and see if he was worthy of me. It felt possessive and wrong.’
Soon afterwards, he offered her a promotion with a salary jump from £6,700 to £10,250 a month, plus benefits and commission. Louise says this left her feeling ‘stuck’. ‘I knew I had to put a stop to what he was doing, but I couldn’t afford to say no to that sort of money.’
The trip to Luxembourg came shortly afterwards, followed by an unsettling encounter at Louise’s house, when Bandemer – visiting on the pretence of doing some work on her computer – placed his hand on her knee in front of her horrified daughter, then 17.
‘When he left the room she looked at me and said, ‘Mum, what are you doing? Why are you letting him behaving like this?’
‘I was so proud of her but also mortified she had seen that. I saw it all through her eyes and everything I’d been burying came out.’
Louise called Bandemer the next day and told him categorically that his behaviour had to stop.
‘He was crying, saying he hadn’t meant anything by it, and I felt sorry for him, so I started placating him. I thought, at long last, I’d got through to him.’
But it wasn’t to be. Alongside messages about buying a house in Cyprus together, which Bandemer later claimed was for ‘training’ purposes, there was a Valentine’s card expressing his love and several lavish gifts: a designer coat, a vase inscribed with the words ‘the flowers herein will never surpass your beauty’ – and finally, in March 2022, the ring.
Louise recalls: ‘He came to my house, sat down and said, ‘I’ve got a gift for you. I’ve had it for months. This is the last one, I promise. Think of it as a commitment ring, for the company.’ I said ‘no’. He got upset again and said, ‘Please. Take the ring. It’s just for work.’
To this day, the sparkling diamond sits in a drawer upstairs, unworn.
‘I don’t know why I still have it,’ she says. ‘I should sell it, but I can’t bear to touch it.’
Louise says she continued to stand up to Bandemer and refused any further gifts from him. His affections for her seemed to cool in the following months. She found herself being excluded from meetings and, in her words, ‘ostracised’. In May 2022, she received a message offering an inferior role and reduced salary.
When she refused, she was dismissed, without being paid her notice period, holiday pay or pension contributions. She felt she had no choice but to file a claim against Bandemer. ‘He turned a job I loved into something awful, and then he took it from me,’ she says.
Not only did she have to face him in court, but she had to put herself in the spotlight, laying bare the lurid details of his round-the-clock messages, calls and emails.
‘Somebody had to stop him,’ Louise says. ‘He might go and do it again to someone else.’
To date, Bandemer has made no public statement about the tribunal decision. He did not reply to requests to comment. There are still pictures of, and messages about, Louise on his social media accounts, which this month shows him enjoying a trip to South Africa with his wife. On his professional website, he says he is ‘just trying to be a good dad, husband and grandad, and helping others get to where they want to be’. The irony of this is not lost on Louise.
For now, she is focusing on her mental health, building her own fledgling finance company, and being there for her children.
‘I want to be a good role model, not only to other women out there but to my kids, especially my daughters. I want them to see that Mum’s doing OK: she went through something horrible but she stood up to that man, she stood up for her principles and she won.
‘I may not have spoken up during my employment but I am speaking up now. And I hope, in years to come, that will make them proud.’