‘Sexist bullying pushed me to the brink of suicide’

DeeAnne Fitzpatrick
DeeAnne Fitzpatrick

A woman has told an employment tribunal how she contacted a Swiss suicide clinic following an alleged campaign of abuse from her male colleagues at a government agency.

DeeAnne Fitzpatrick claims that she was taped to a chair and gagged for speaking out “against the boys” during years of relentless bullying at the Marine Scotland office in Scrabster, Caithness.

However, the tribunal judge has ruled that the allegation, along with many others, are inadmissible as evidence because the claims were alleged to have happened too long ago.

The 49-year-old claims she was targeted because of her sex and her Canadian nationality and says she was even mocked for suffering a miscarriage.

Woman takes Scottish Government to court over “10 years of harassment”

Yesterday, as her employment tribunal got under way in Aberdeen, she said she was left feeling “insulted, humiliated and degraded as a woman” during her 10-year stint at the north office.

Due to the age of the other allegations, the hearing is only focusing on a series of “threatening” cards Ms Fitzpatrick received on her birthday and Valentine’s Day between 2015 and 2017.

She told the hearing that the messages left her “traumatised” and dented her confidence to such an extent that she became “a recluse”.

Ms Fitzpatrick, who lives at Janetstown outside Thurso, has been in Scotland for 25 years and began working at Scrabster as a fishery officer in 2006.

The government agency enforces EU and UK fishing rules and aims to ensure the industry is sustainable.

Ms Fitzpatrick’s job encompasses a stretch of coast between Strathy and Helmsdale, and involves inspecting catches to ensure quotas are being adhered to.

She is still employed by Marine Scotland but has been signed off since November 2016.

The tribunal heard that Ms Fitzpatrick received a first letter at her work on February 12, 2015, which contained a handwritten limerick describing her as “Canadian Jock” and referring to her having male genitalia.

She received another on her birthday in 2016, which referred to her as “old troll” – a nickname she claims bullies at work used for her.

And letters continued to arrive even after she was signed off, with a Valentine’s card posted to her home last February.

Ms Fitzpatrick said: “I felt insulted, humiliated and degraded as a woman, and I felt I was being made fun of.

“I thought they were from colleagues because phrases like ‘old troll’ and ‘Canadian Jock’ had been used about me at work.

“Someone with a sick mind was sending them to intimidate me and frighten me, because I’m a woman working in what is seen as a man’s job in Marine Scotland.”

Ms Fitzpatrick said that “nothing changed” despite complaining to Marine Scotland’s human resources department.

She added: “When I first started getting the cards it made me feel awful, but as they continued it affected my self-esteem and I became a recluse.

“Somebody was controlling how I felt about my security and there was nothing I could do about it.

“I don’t really go out and with everything going on I did contact Dignitas in Switzerland because I’d had enough.

“This has driven me to almost commit suicide.”

Representing Marine Scotland, solicitor Andrew Gibson argued that there was no proof that the letters had been sent by her workmates.

The lawyer said that Ms Fitzpatrick was “disliked” in the fishing community and suggested “disgruntled fishermen” who she had cautioned in her career could have posted the cards.

Mr Gibson said: “One interpretation is that the cards could have come from aggrieved fishermen who have made complaints about you previously.”

And he indicated that the complainant may have sent herself the letters in an effort to get certain colleagues into trouble.

Ms Fitzpatrick responded: “If I started to do something like that, send myself cards, I would need to check myself into a mental institution.”

The tribunal, before Judge James Hendry, continues today.