News Irish News

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Fireman awarded £65,000 after eight-year bullying

A FIREMAN who was "systematically abused, bullied and belittled" by a superior officer over an eight-year period was awarded £65,000 and costs by the High Court in his action against Sligo Co Council yesterday.

Michael Shanley (43), married with three children, of Crozon Park, Sligo, said the abuse had been so severe that he had contemplated suicide.

When an inquiry was held, he broke down and cried in front of senior council officials.

In evidence he said the matter was investigated by the Anti Bullying Centre at Dublin's Trinity College which had vindicated his complaints.

He had been so pre-occupied with trying to survive at work that he had missed out nine or 10 years of rearing his children and being with his wife who suffered a brain tumour.

Mr Shanley said he had changed as result of the abuse he found it difficult to carry on a conversation.

He was good at his work and wanted to stay in the job because it was his life.

The county council admitted liability and Mr Justice Paul Butler was asked to assess damages. The court was told that the officer who had bullied Mr Shanley station officer Liam O'Donnell was now retired. Mr Shanley has since been promoted to station officer rank.

Mr James Nugent SC, for Mr Shanley, said his client over an eight year period was subjected to systematic bullying and abuse.

According to the Anti Bullying Centre report Mr Shanley's perception of the working relationship between himself and Liam O'Donnell was one of intimidation, humiliation, undermining and attempting to isolate him from colleagues.

Mr Shanley was subjected to frequent abuse and obscenities; open aggression and threatening behaviour; constant humiliation; undermining of authority; criticism, false accusations; rumours and goading.

From the beginning of his employment in Sligo fire station in 1991, the report stated, Mr Shanley feared Mr O'Donnell and his power.

Mr O'Donnell exerted his control often using obscene language. Mr Shanley was made to repeat demeaning jobs such as cleaning toilets.

Other firemen saw Mr Shanley as an excellent officer who handled them well in a non-threatening manner.

In evidence, Mr Shanley said he filed complaints but nothing happened.

Following a holiday in 1999 he genuinely feared for his own safety when returning to work as the chief and assistant chief fire officers were on a day off. He contacted his union. An inquiry was attended by the county secretary, county engineer and a SIPTU officer.

"I broke down at that meeting. I begged - I admit it. I lost my voice. I wanted to go back to work," said Mr Shanley. From that time he reported to someone other that Mr O'Donnell and it was decided an inquiry be set up. He also attended a psychologist. He said the enquiry held in his favour but the council had said they were in no way to blame and that he, himself, was in someway to blame.

Mr Justice Butler said it was an unusual case and concerned post traumatic stress disorder. From evidence it appeared Mr Shanley had suffered since 1992 to such an extent that he became suicidal at one stage. The injury was the fault of his employers.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News