DeeAnn Fitzpatrick: 'I was petrified by gagging incident'

By Mark Daly
BBC Scotland Investigations Correspondent

Media caption,
A woman who claims she was taped to a chair by two male colleagues says she was left petrified

A woman who was taped to a chair and gagged by two male colleagues at a Scottish government department said the incident left her "petrified".

DeeAnn Fitzpatrick claimed a decade of bullying at Marine Scotland's Scrabster office made her contemplate suicide.

In her first interview, the fisheries officer, who is originally from Canada, told BBC Scotland she was left "broken" by her experiences.

She said she was "morally and mentally destroyed".

Last month BBC Scotland told how the 49-year-old said she was targeted as a result of blowing the whistle on a threatening and misogynistic culture at the fishing industry watchdog's office on the far north Caithness coast.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced an urgent review after the BBC published a photo of the restraint incident.

'Toxic' environment

Her case was recently heard at an employment tribunal, which has yet to give its ruling.

The chair incident happened in 2010 after Ms Fitzpatrick told her bosses about the treatment a young female co-worker had been subjected to.

She said this created a "toxic" office environment, especially after she was identified as the whistleblower.

Image caption,
DeeAnn Fitzpatrick said she felt "humiliated"

Ms Fitzpatrick said she was sworn at and subjected to sexist and derogatory remarks, such as being called a "whore" and a "retard".

She claimed this culminated in the chair incident which was captured on camera by one of the protagonists.

Ms Fitzpatrick said the two men, Reid Anderson and Jody Paske, entered a room where she was working alone.

One of them then "bear-hugged" her to the chair.

She said: "I did curse and tell them to leave me alone.

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

"They taped my legs and then they started to tape the rest of me and, because I was making noise, one of them told the other guy: 'Give me some tape. That shuts her up'.

"He took the tape and he placed it over my mouth and then he said: 'That's what you get for speaking out against the boys'."

Asked how she felt, Ms Fitzpatrick said: "I was petrified because I did not know what they were going to do to me.

"The fact that they could tape me to that chair said to me that they could do a lot worse and that is what frightened me.

"At one point I became numb to the point I just froze.

"I could not make a noise.

"I could not move.

"I just froze."

When she reported the incident, her manager said he would have "a word" with the pair.

Ms Fitzpatrick said she was told 'I am sure they meant no harm and that was the boys just being boys'.

Over the years, she made a series of complaints but claimed her concerns were not taken seriously.

She went back to work but again things came to a head when she was threatened with disciplinary action by HR for going to her dying father's bedside in Canada.

Ms Fitzpatrick said: "At that moment in time it broke me.

"It really showed me what they thought of me.

"I felt I was worthless."

Image caption,
Marine Scotland's office in Scrabster

Mr Paske, who no longer works at Marine Scotland, has previously 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."

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.

Ms Fitzpatrick, who is originally from Newfoundland in Canada, has lived in Scotland for 25 years.

She began working for Marine Scotland in 2006 but claimed it soon turned sour due to the misogynistic behaviour of her colleagues towards a younger female colleague.

And when she raised concerns about their actions she says she became the target.

As well as derogatory remarks Ms Fitzpatrick claims they looked at topless pictures of women in her company and posted images of naked men on the walls to annoy her.

She even alleges she was mocked by a senior officer for losing a baby.

Ms Fitzpatrick said: "As he hung up the phone he looked around the office and he said to the men: 'I think I will go and have myself a miscarriage and take six months off work. It seems to have worked for some in here'."

At her lowest ebb, she says she contacted the Swiss Dignitas clinic to make inquiries about ending her life.

She said: "I made up my mind that they had pushed me too far.

"I could not take it any more.

"I felt like I was a failure.

"I felt like I had let my family down.

"I was a broken individual."

Mrs Fitzpatrick said she was in a "dark place" and became a recluse who was afraid to leave the house.

She added: "I felt dead inside and that is an awful, awful feeling."

Ms Fitzpatrick says she wants to meet the first minister to discuss her case and highlight the devastating impact of bullying in the workplace.

And she stressed her goal was not compensation but rather securing her old job back and inspiring others to speak out.

Ms Fitzpatrick said: "I want my job back, I want to be able to work in an environment that's safe and friendly.

"I actually want everyone else that's been bullied and still being bullied, I want them to be able to do the same thing.

"I do not want anyone to be where I was not so long ago."

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

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "As the first minister and permanent secretary have made clear, harassment or abuse of any form is completely reprehensible and will not be tolerated in the Scottish government.

"This complaint is being taken seriously and is being fully investigated.

"Appropriate action will be taken once the outcome of the investigation is known.

"The first minister has asked the permanent secretary to conduct a full review of the circumstances of the case - including to ensure that there is a positive working culture in Marine Scotland."

The spokeswoman said it would be wrong to pre-empt the outcome of the employment tribunal by commenting any further ahead of its decision.