Sellafield director denies ending employee contract because of whistleblowing

A nuclear plant HR director who was accused of terminating a consultant's contract because she was a whistleblower has said she made the decision because of "mistrust".

HR consultant Alison McDermott told an employment tribunal her contract with the Sellafield site in Cumbria ended in October 2018 after she reported allegations of "vile" homophobic abuse, sexual harassment and bullying at the site.

The hearing in Leeds heard the termination came after a draft report, written by Ms McDermott, which found some staff regularly faced disrespect at work.

Giving evidence on Wednesday, Heather Roberts, who was Sellafield's HR director at the time, accepted the report "wasn't an easy read" but said she made the decision to end Ms McDermott's contract because she had concerns about her approach and because of financial constraints.

She said the report highlighted a number of negative comments, including "devastating criticism" about herself, but was unbalanced.

The tribunal heard some members of staff said their positive comments were not included in the report and concerns were also raised about an invoice from Ms McDermott for £23,000 for three weeks' work.

When it was suggested the reason she terminated Ms McDermott's contract was whistleblowing, Ms Roberts said: "It was not."

She said if she had thought the company was getting "value for money" she would have looked elsewhere to budget for Ms McDermott's costs, but by that time there was a "lack of trust".

Ms Roberts said: "I asked her to do a piece of work and the way she carried it out I then began to mistrust asking her to do stuff."

She said she had asked Ms McDermott to look into an anonymous report of sexual harassment by a senior manager.

But Ms McDermott, who had a remit of equality, diversity and inclusion, claims she refused to take part in a covert investigation into the member of staff because she believed a formal investigation was required for the serious allegations.

Ms Roberts said the criticism of her leadership and of the HR lead team by Ms McDermott was "absolutely not" the reason her contract was terminated when she returned from holiday after submitting the draft report.

Ms McDermott, who runs company Interim Diversity Limited, has taken Sellafield, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and Ms Roberts to tribunal.

The hearing will continue on Friday.