Manager denies harassing girl

A manager at the Prudential insurance company who claims he was unfairly sacked for sexually harassing a teenage trainee described her today as "forward". Michael Jennings, 47, told an industrial tribunal at Croydon, south London, of his first encounter with the 17-year-old girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

"I noticed that she had a sizeable split in her skirt. I found her bright, intelligent and quite forward," the former pounds 50,000 a year manager said.

He told how he fostered an atmosphere of success at the branch in south- east London, which his motivational and interpersonal skills had helped transform into one of the best run in the country.

Mr Jennings lost his job with the insurance company, which he had served for 25 years, after three women complained about his alleged lewd behaviour towards them.

Facing questions from his counsel, Helen Gower, he said his management style was informal and he liked to get involved in recruitment. He denied using words such as "slag" or intimidating the women, but admitted to using nicknames for his colleagues.

He said: "My name was Robbie Coltrane. There were other people who had names. One of the financial controllers looked like Eric Cantona and I called him Eric."

Mr Jennings also rejected allegations that he referred to one of his accusers "going-down on Mickey Mouse" - a reference to her drinking flask depicting the Disney character.

Typical of the atmosphere of banter was when his line manager employed a strippogram to celebrate his birthday, he said. On another occasion, following an out-of-bounds course, he even dressed up in grass skirt and coconut breasts, he claimed.

The hearing was adjourned.