Highlands & Islands

'Gagged' civil servant to sue Scottish government

DeeAnn Fitzpatrick taped to a chair

A civil servant who was allegedly gagged and tied to a chair after she spoke out against misogyny is suing the Scottish government.

Lawyers acting for DeeAnn Fitzpatrick confirmed the claim, which is believed to be based on alleged stress while she was working for Marine Scotland.

An MSP has also called for a "truly independent inquiry" into the treatment of Ms Fitzpatrick.

The Scottish government said abuse of any form was completely unacceptable.

Pictures of Ms Fitzpatrick taped to a chair and gagged were published by BBC Scotland last year.

The Canadian-born civil servant, a fisheries officer employed by Marine Scotland, claimed she was targeted as a result of blowing the whistle on a threatening and misogynistic culture at the fishing industry watchdog's office at Scrabster on the far north Caithness coast.

'Ongoing internal process'

Lawyers acting for Ms Fitzpatrick have confirmed she has raised a legal action against the Scottish government, which is believed to be based on alleged stress and mental health issues.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "Harassment or abuse of any form is completely unacceptable, and will not be tolerated in the Scottish government.

"We have robust policies and procedures in place to deal with instances where behaviour falls below the standard expected.

"This matter is the subject of an ongoing internal process. We do not discuss internal staffing matters."

Image caption DeeAnn Fitzpatrick worked at Marine Scotland's office in Scrabster

The development came as Scottish Labour's Rhoda Grant called for a "truly independent inquiry" into the saga.

The Highlands MSP used a member's debate on condemning misogyny and harassment at Holyrood to raise the whistleblower's case in a speech she described as "probably the most difficult" one she had ever made.

Ms Grant claimed a manager at Marine Scotland "referred to women in extremely derogatory terms".

'The abuse continues'

She added: "I cannot repeat the language used here in the chamber, but it was racist, sexist, vicious and degrading.

"DeeAnn has been subject to institutional racism, sexism, harassment and abuse at the hands of Marine Scotland, a Scottish government directorate."

Ms Grant said "the abuse continues", despite her raising the matter at senior levels in government.

Over years "the oppressive behaviour is constant and undermining", Ms Grant said, adding that her constituent was "constantly being held to a different standard than others".

"I'm told by a colleague that this was deliberate and systematic conduct by others in the office and in the line of command in Marine Scotland, designed to wear her down and force her out," she said.

The MSP claimed Ms Fitzpatrick had not been suspended but had been given no reason why she was not allowed to return to work and was being "pursued by Marine Scotland with further disciplinary action".

'Completely unacceptable'

Last year Leslie Evans, permanent secretary to the Scottish government, was asked by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to review the case of Ms Fitzpatrick and concluded the chair incident was "completely unacceptable, whatever the circumstances".

But Ms Grant told the chamber: "The first minister's investigation only looked at the incident with the photograph, neither was it independent."

She demanded "a truly independent inquiry" into Ms Fitzpatrick's treatment,

Ms Fitzpatrick lost an employment tribunal against Marine Scotland last June after claiming she had been harassed by colleagues.

However, the tribunal did not consider the chair incident as it was said to have happened more than three years before the complaint was brought.

Instead, the tribunal focused on her claim that she had received abusive cards from colleagues on her birthday and on Valentine's Day between 2015 and 2017.

In its judgement, the tribunal said it could not agree whether the cards could be said to have been likely to come from current colleagues.