Cruel firemen made woman's life a misery

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The Independent Online

Labour Editor

A fire brigade and named officers should bear an "individual and collective shame" for the cruelty meted out to a female firefighter, according to an industrial tribunal ruling yesterday.

The life of Tanya Clayton, one of the first two women members of the Hereford and Worcester brigade, was made a misery, and her personality and self-confidence were totally destroyed as a result of the daily sexual discrimination she encountered, the tribunal found.

Ms Clayton, 29, who is married with two stepsons, has since become a patient in a psychiatric ward suffering from clinical depression which, according to medical evidence, was 90 to 95 per cent due to her experiences in the workplace.

After joining the brigade in 1989, she was subjected to verbal aggression, intimidation and hostility at the hands of sub officers Ronald East and Gordon Perkins and others, the judgment said.

In her evidence, Ms Clayton told the tribunal: "I have no confidence as a result of East and Perkins. It has affected nearly every aspect of my life. My whole personality has changed. I used to be outgoing and a strong person. I am not any more. I just want to run away and hide. It has affected my home life, my marriage, my children. When I am with the kids, I have no tolerance and no patience. I feel bitterness, anger and resentful at the injustice of it all."

Ms Clayton, who was in the army before joining the brigade, was subjected to extra drills and "useless and dangerous" activities in a deliberate attempt to frighten her. On one occasion, sub-officer Perkins ordered her to take a turntable ladder up to 100 feet and spin it round for more than an hour. She was routinely made to serve tea to her male colleagues and officers in order to humiliate her, it was found. The tribunal found it "interesting" that assistant chief fire officer Haynes had been present for most of the four-month hearing and was convinced that there had been "no discrimination at all".

The judgment said:"Discriminatory attitudes were so rife, managerial control so little and attitudes so hardened that it is no wonder it took place, with management completely unable to deal with it." The other woman firefighter was more "compliant" and suffered less, the tribunal heard..

Next week it will establish the amount of compensation to be paid to Ms Clayton. Fire brigade officials yesterday refused to comment until they had time to study the ruling.

Ken Cameron, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, which backed Ms Clayton's case, said the judgment was a "scathing indictment" of management at Hereford and Worcester who, unfortunately, were not untypical of the British fire service. "I hope this will kick-start chief fire officers into at least taking equal opportunites as seriously as the union does," he said.