Nuclear site HR boss took no action over 'inappropriate touching', tribunal told

Sellafield Nuclear power plant, in Cumbria. Credit: Peter Byrne/PA Archive/PA Images

The HR director at a nuclear site in Cumbria took "no action" against a colleague who allegedly told inappropriate jokes, touched female colleagues and bragged about sexual conquests, a tribunal has been told.

HR consultant Alison McDermott has told an employment tribunal that reports of bullying, harassment and homophobic abuse were not investigated properly at the Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing and decommissioning site.

The hearing in Leeds was told a report made anonymously through external system Safecall accused a member of the HR team of telling sexually inappropriate jokes, touching female members of the department, berating a colleague and "telling tales" about sexual conquests.

The report also said there was a "legacy of cover-up" at the plant in Seascale, and later an anonymous letter sent to bosses at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) said the site's HR director had taken "no action".

Ms McDermott, who had a remit of equality, diversity and inclusion, has taken Sellafield, its HR director Heather Roberts, and the NDA, to tribunal, as she claims her contract was terminated for whistleblowing.

Giving evidence, David Vineall, group HR director for the NDA, said Ms McDermott was "integral" to the equality, diversity and inclusion "journey" the organisation had been on.

He confirmed that in October 2018 he received an anonymous letter that was "highly critical" of the HR department at Sellafield.

The letter said: "Someone has recently raised an issue of sexual harassment regarding HR leaders and Heather has taken no action."

He said he advised Ms Roberts to undertake an external investigation into the allegations against the member of staff, but she told him they did not have the evidence.

He said: "I wanted to make sure we were following the due process so I had discussions with her, she explained the approach she had taken, that she had taken advice from the legal team. I respected that and we moved on."

Mr Vineall said an external investigation was later carried out into the allegations but he could not recall the outcome.

Ms McDermott, who was paid £1,500 a day for her services, had her contract terminated in October 2018 after she wrote a report which was highly critical of the HR department.

She claimed that when she told Paul Vallance, NDA communications officer, her contract had been terminated by Ms Roberts, he replied: "For Christ's sake, how stupid can she be? She could have at least waited for a few months so it didn't look so blatant."

But, giving evidence on Tuesday, he denied he had made the comments. He said he could not recall Ms McDermott telling him her contract had been terminated to "suppress wrongdoing".

The hearing will continue on Thursday when closing submissions will be made by the parties.