Leeds & West Yorkshire

West Yorkshire fire service 'hired private eye to spy on sick employee'

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Media captionAnthea Orchard found the tracking device beneath her car

A 999 call handler on sick leave had a tracking device placed on her car by a private detective hired by her bosses.

Anthea Orchard, 35, said West Yorkshire Fire Service (WYFS) began monitoring her after she was signed off work with stress over fears she was moonlighting.

She said bosses suspected she was using the time to run her part-time balloon decorating business.

WYFS has refused to comment but the regional Fire Brigades Union said it was aware of at least one similar case.

Mrs Orchard was signed off work by a doctor with stress and hyperthyroidism last November, soon after returning from 12 months' maternity leave.

Four days after she was signed off, she began receiving calls from people purportedly offering her work, which she turned down.

'Bad dream'

The mother-of-two, from Denholme Gate, Bradford, said she traced the number and discovered it was a private investigator.

"I immediately thought that it was work and got in touch with my Fire Brigade Union representative and they started making inquiries.

"Work denied it all. They said that they were not authorising any such actions."

A tracking device was found under her car on 11 November, she said.

Mrs Orchard has now left her job with a £11,000 payout after signing a "compromise agreement" in which she agreed not to take the service to court for human rights violations over "unnecessary surveillance or invasion into privacy and family life".

"It feels like a bad dream and I've been really ill as a result," she said.

West Yorkshire Fire Service has declined to comment.

Fire Brigades Union brigade secretary David Williams said he knows of at least one other case where similar tactics have been used against a West Yorkshire Fire Service employee.

He said: "To go to an outside agency and instruct them and allow them to put tracking devices on a family car is nothing short of scandalous.

"I'm so really disappointed in a brigade that is supposed to be an investor in people and will make great play on the awards it has received but, at the same time, will go to these lengths."

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