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Ambulance service employee threatened with legal action after telling bosses he was suicidal

PUBLISHED: 10:44 22 February 2019 | UPDATED: 11:00 22 February 2019

Gordon Flemming, a former mechanic at East of England Ambulance Trust. Photo: BBC

Gordon Flemming, a former mechanic at East of England Ambulance Trust. Photo: BBC

BBC

A suicidal ambulance trust employee was threatened with legal action and the boss handling his dismissal said he wanted to “pummel” his viewpoint into him “with [his] fists”.

Stock photo of an ambulance. Picture: Chris BishopStock photo of an ambulance. Picture: Chris Bishop

Gordon Flemming worked for the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) from 2009 as a motor vehicle technician based in Hellesdon, Norwich.

But in 2012 he had a heart attack at work after an argument with a line manager, documents released from an employment tribunal held in Norwich revealed.

Following this Mr Flemming struggled to return to work - except for a period of 13 days - due to physical and mental health issues, but health assessments, grievance proceedings and discussions continued for a number of years.

Judges recognised Mr Flemming “was at times in his employment very difficult to manage” and would sometimes not co-operate.

But in one email, sent in June 2015 to Debbie Bowman, executive PA to assistant director operations support Paul Henry, Mr Flemming said: “I am suffering from a severe and crippling mental illness [...] are you really interested in what has happened to me Mr Henry, corporate bullying on such a scale that I have contemplated ending it all, does nobody care about that?”.

But in the reply, from Ruth McAll, director of HR, Mr Flemming was threatened with legal action.

It said: “Dear Gordon, I appreciate you may have mental health problems, but this letter is not acceptable. In future do not write to anyone else in the trust except me. If you continue to write such letters we will refer them to our solicitors. Ruth.”

Judges at the tribunal said the response was the most “appalling” they had seen in their 60 years of combined service.

And during a disciplinary hearing, where Mr Flemming had left his phone recording in an interview room during a break, Robert Ashford, then deputy director for operations is heard to say: “I mean getting up and pummelling it into him [Mr Flemming] with my fists is probably not appropriate in terms of policy, is it?”

In the same recording Helen Adams, and HR locality manager at EEAST, can be heard asking: “Can you imagine an ET (employment tribunal)?”

To which Mr Ashford replied: “Oh don’t.”

The judges said: “It seems to us beyond belief that someone conducting a disciplinary hearing would have felt it appropriate to use the language that he did.”

It was at this hearing it was decided Mr Flemming would be dismissed for gross misconduct. But judges at the tribunal hearing found the language used meant there had not been “any realistic prospect of a fair procedure”.

They ruled Mr Flemming’s claim he was unfairly dismissed was “well-founded” and he had been discriminated against because of his disability.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb asked in the House of Commons yesterday how much had been spent by the trust on the legal fees and other costs to do with the case.

Stephen Hammond, health minister, said it was £252,162.15 plus VAT.

An EEAST spokesman said: “The trust has noted the tribunal’s judgment and is giving it close consideration. We are unable to comment further as the matter is not yet concluded.”

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