Government staff "intercepted emails" and "hatched a plan" to sack whistleblower, claims MSP

Fisheries officer DeeAnn Fitzpatrick was gagged and tied to a chair by colleagues.
Fisheries officer DeeAnn Fitzpatrick was gagged and tied to a chair by colleagues.

Scottish Government officials have been accused of "hatching a plan" to get rid of an employee who allegedly suffered a shocking catalogue of bullying, harassment and abuse over a decade.

DeeAnn Fitzpatrick, 50, is alleged to have suffered physical and verbal abuse while working as a fisheries officer with government agency Marine Scotland in Caithness.

Today her MSP, Rhoda Grant, claimed that Scottish Government human resources staff had intercepted Ms Fitzpatrick's emails, including those with her trade union representative, and had "hatched a plan" with Ms Fitzpatrick's managers to have her moved to the Outer Hebrides office or "failing that, to find grounds against her – any grounds – to dismiss her."

Describing her speech as the "most difficult" she's had to make in the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Labour politician used parliamentary privilege to make the allegations and detail some of the alleged abuse Canadian-born Ms Fitzpatrick had received.

Ms Grant said DeeAnn Fitzpatrick's issues at work had started after returning to work following a "devastating" relationship with a colleague in another office, which had resulted in a miscarriage, and a non-harassment order being granted.

She said Ms Fitzpatrick's line manager had mocked her being off with stress and threatened to move her to work in the office where her former partner was based - despite knowing that a non harassment order was in place. She added that she could not repeat the "extremely derogatory" terms in which he referred to women.

"DeeAnn has been subject to institutional racism, sexism, harassment and abuse at the hands of a Marine Scotland, a Scottish Government Directorate," said Ms Grant. Calling for an independent inquiry into the case, she added: "Despite me raising this at senior levels of government: with the previous Permanent Secretary, with John Swinney, Richard Lockhead, Paul Wheelhouse and the First Minister – the abuse continues."

And she said she had discovered that the "Scottish Government HR intercepted DeeAnn’s e-mails, including sensitive exchanges with her Trade Union representative", adding that there had been "a fully hatched plan between Scottish Government HR and DeeAnn’s line management... which showed they intended to move her to the Outer Hebrides. Failing that, to find grounds against her – any grounds – to dismiss her.

"When DeeAnn declares she cannot move because of caring for her ailing mother, they moved to the dismissal plan. Disciplining her for trumped-up charges. This only collapsed when they failed to provide the necessary evidence. And then DeeAnn is threatened with disciplinary action for going to her father’s death bed."

Ms Fitzpatrick began working for Marine Scotland in 2006 but has claimed problems began when she blew the whistle on the misogynistic behaviour of her colleagues towards a younger female colleague. She then became the target of abuse - and her case came to public attention last year when a photograph was revealed showing her gagged and taped to a chair.

Rhoda Grant raised the case with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said an inquiry would be carried out. However yesterday she said: "That investigation only looked at the incident with the photograph. And it certainly wasn't independent.

"My evidence to that inquiry was also fed back directly to Marine Scotland and twisted to be used against DeeAnn."

She added that Ms Fitzpatrick has still not been informed of the findings of that investigation, and remains off work on full pay, but not suspended.

Ms Grant also revealed that the original case which Ms Fitzpatrick had reported was a threat to punch another female staff member by a male fisheries officer, who was allegedly encouraged by DeeAnn's boss "to make sure it's a good one".

While they were initially disciplined, the men had successful appeals. Ms Grant claimed: "the Scottish Government know the Senior Fishery Officer secretly recorded the disciplinary panel’s deliberations and learned details that then led to their successful appeal."

As well as abuse, Ms Grant said, DeeAnn Fitzpatrick was "constantly being held to a different standard than others – toil, holidays, time off for compassionate leave or for medical reasons. On every occasion she is questioned, while others were not. I am told by a colleague that this was deliberate and systematic conduct by others in the office, and the line of command in Marine Scotland. Designed to wear her down and force her out."

However, despite asking Equalities Minister Christina McKelvie, if she would push Scottish Government colleagues for an independent inquiry, Ms McKelvie said it would be "inappropriate" for her to comment and that Rhoda Grant should take up an offer to meet with Scottish Government officials.

The Scottish Government has been contacted for a response.