CSA case ends in smutty sniggers: Tribunal reserves judgment over sex-harassment claim. Steve Boggan reports

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The Independent Online
A NINE-DAY hearing into claims of sexual harassment at the Child Support Agency ended yesterday as it began, in smutty laughter.

Days one and two of the industrial tribunal in Birmingham had been reduced to sniggers when Stephen Davies, a CSA manager, described how a female colleague had given him a pair of underpants for his birthday. The sniggers rose to roars when the underpants were duly produced.

Yesterday, as the tribunal panel reserved judgment until next week on whether Mr Davies had suffered sexual discrimination, it was breasts, shyness and Chinese meals that took centrestage. Mr Davies, 39, a former operations project manager at the CSA's West Midlands HQ in Dudley, is claiming compensation from the agency because it failed to stop a colleague, Mrs A, from sexually harassing him between October 1992 and May 1993. He said she pestered him for sex, commented on the size of his penis and said he 'had the best bum in the office'.

Mr Davies claimed that she subsequently alleged he sexually harassed her because he refused to sleep with her. The reason he had not reported her behaviour earlier was, he said, because he was 'shy and embarrassed'.

However, Alastair Smail, counsel for the CSA, described his reticence as 'utterly absurd'. During the previous nine days, he said, witnesses had described how Mr Davies had made passes at them, how he had dropped his trousers in front of 75 people at a CSA party and how he admitted having extramarital affairs. Mr Smail added: 'We have heard that he accompanied one of the secretaries back to her place for kissing and breast groping, and possibly for a Chinese, too.' The subsequent laughter was amplified when Manuel Delgado, the tribunal chairman, interrupted: 'I think the Chinese meal came first.'

Mr Davies's suggestion that Mrs A reported him purely because he would not sleep with her was 'an extremely conceited theory', Mr Smail said. He said Mr Davies had 'lied' when he denied making passes at two other women, Miss E and Mrs C, because they had described the incidents in detail.

Because of an order banning the use of the names of five witnesses - all CSA employees - subsequent accounts have been confusing. Put simply, Mr Davies claims he was harassed by Mrs A; he is supposed to have made a play for Miss B; he made a bet that he could sleep with Mrs C; he denied having an affair with Miss D; and he admits going home with Miss E and kissing her.

Mr Davies's representative, Peter Henrick, described Mrs A as being 'obsessed with sex' and said she had invented stories about Mr Davies. He said his client had received no complaints of any sort during his 21-year career as a civil servant, and management assessments of him had been exceptional. 'This case came about simply because he would not give in to sexual harassment . . . He has been maliciously victimised.'

The panel is likely to announce its decision, and lift the ban on reporting names, next Tuesday or Wednesday. Whoever wins, the CSA, the purveyor of family values, is a sure loser.

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