'Whistleblower' taped to chair and gagged

By Mark Daly
BBC Scotland Investigations Correspondent

  • Published
Media caption,

Woman taped to chair raises complaint

A woman who complained of a racist and misogynistic culture in a Scottish government department claims she was taped to a chair and gagged by two male colleagues as a warning to keep quiet.

DeeAnn Fitzpatrick said the restraint took place amid years of bullying and harassment at Marine Scotland's Scrabster office.

The fisheries officer has taken her case to an employment tribunal.

BBC Scotland has obtained a photo of the restraint incident.

It was taken by one of the men allegedly responsible.

Ongoing tribunal

Ms Fitzpatrick, a Canadian national, said it happened in 2010 as a result of her blowing the whistle on a threatening and misogynistic culture at Marine Scotland's office in Scrabster, on the far north Caithness coast.

In evidence to her ongoing tribunal, she said that one of the men involved, fisheries officer Reid Anderson, told her: "This is what you get when you speak out against the boys."

Image caption,
The BBC understands Reid Anderson remains employed at Marine Scotland

The Scottish government is responsible for Marine Scotland, which is the watchdog for the fisheries and aquaculture industries in Scotland.

It said that it "does not comment on internal staffing matters".

Rhoda Grant, a Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has been supporting 49-year-old Ms Fitzpatrick since 2010, when a concerned colleague of the fisheries officer alerted the politician to the alleged treatment.

Seeing the photo for the first time, Ms Grant told the BBC: "It's horrific. I'm kind of speechless."

The MSP said she had been told it had happened but seeing the photo seemed to make it "10 times worse".

Ms Grant said: "She's been subject to a long period of harassment, horrendous behaviour towards her.

"In some of my dealings with DeeAnn it's very clear that there is a culture in that office that people can get away with what they say and what they do.

"It seems to me that it's out of control."

'Boys just being boys'

Ms Grant said the behaviour had been "unacceptable" eight years ago but the recent #Me Too movement, highlighting abuse against women, had made people see there should be a zero tolerance approach.

The BBC has seen emails showing Ms Fitzpatrick tried to raise the alleged attack with one of her managers soon after it happened, but it appears to have not been taken seriously.

The manager said he would have "a word" with the men involved - Reid Anderson and Jody Paske.

He added: "I am sure they meant no harm and that was the boys just being boys."

Image caption,
DeeAnn works as a fisheries officer checking the operation of the industry

Mr Anderson, who the BBC understands remains employed by Marine Scotland and has recently been promoted, did not respond to the allegations, although civil servants are usually unable to comment without government approval.

Mr Paske, who no longer works at Marine Scotland, told the BBC that the allegations were "lies".

He said: "These are false allegations. I can't remember the event you mention, but if it did happen, it would have been office banter. Just a craic. Certainly nothing to do with abuse."

We asked the Scottish government to waive the civil service code in order to allow Ms Fitzpatrick to speak about her experiences but permission was not given.

A spokeswoman said: "The Scottish government has clear standards of behaviour which apply to all staff.

"Any concerns raised by staff are taken seriously and investigated fully."

Image caption,
Marine Scotland's office in Scrabster

In evidence to an employment tribunal against the Scottish government, Ms Fitzpatrick claimed that over a period of almost 10 years she had been subjected to behaviour including:

  • being mocked about having a miscarriage
  • being told certain staff at Marine Scotland didn't want "a woman, especially a foreign woman"
  • extreme racist language
  • threatening behaviour towards female staff, who were sometimes referred to as prostitutes

The employment tribunal is unable to consider the restraint incident as it occurred more than three years before the case was brought.

BBC Scotland has also seen emails from the Scottish government's HR department threatening disciplinary action against Ms Fitzpatrick while she was at her father's deathbed in Canada.

The correspondence shows that in November 2016, Ms Fitzpatrick was told her father had suddenly become ill, and had days to live.

She told her line manager this by text message, and that she was on her way to the airport to catch an emergency flight.

Image caption,
DeeAnn claims she has been subjected to threatening behaviour

The letter from the government's HR department, sent to Ms Fitzpatrick by email, acknowledged her father's illness and that she had indeed informed her line manager.

But it said: "You are required to contact me as soon as you receive this letter to explain the reason(s) for your absence. Failure to do so may lead to disciplinary action."

Ms Fitzpatrick's sister-in-law Sherry Fitzpatrick told the BBC that the photograph of the restraint incident needs to be shown.

She said: "We were horrified. We were sickened. We worry about what this has done to her.

Ms Fitzpatrick's sister-in-law said the Canadian national's home had been in Scotland for 25 years.

"She's not giving up and now her family is behind her, and we're not giving up until someone is made accountable for their actions," she said.

Internal disciplinary

Since her father's death in November 2016, Ms Fitzpatrick has been signed off from work.

It is unclear whether her alleged attackers ever faced disciplinary action but Ms Fitzpatrick herself faces a disciplinary hearing from her employers at the end of May.

Image caption,
Scrabster Harbour is an important port for the fishing industry

Her internal disciplinary cites charges of being "overzealous" in her job and being rude to clients.

Ms Fitzpatrick has told supporters she believes it has been designed to get rid of her.

Highlands and Islands MSP Ms Grant said: "They [Ms Fitzpatrick's employers] just won't listen. So their way of resolving it is actually getting the woman out of the workplace, getting the woman out of the man's job."

She called on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham to "get a grip of it" and not allow women to be treated in this "totally unacceptable" way.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said Ms Cunningham would not be made available for interview.

She added that in addition to the ongoing employment tribunal there were also "internal procedures" under way, and it would be "wrong to pre-empt the outcome".

The spokeswoman said these processes provided the "proper avenues" for Ms Fitzpatrick to contribute her position.

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