By Paul Thornton
THE former director of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme in Scotland claims she was forced out of her job by the charity’s “bullying” chief executive.
Janet Shepherd, 56, had been working with the organisation for over 17 years and was leading the Scottish wing before she resigned in January last year.
She claims chief executive Peter Westgarth took an instant dislike to her when he took control of the UK operation in 2005 and forced her out.
Miss Shepherd claims he was “disparaging” about her management style and asked her to leave the charity. She said he made things so difficult for her that she had no choice to resign.
The former high school teacher has now filed a claim of unfair dismissal and breach of contract against the Duke of Edinburgh Award. She said following her resignation HRH Prince Philip himself sent her a personal letter thanking her for her dedication over the years.
Miss Shepherd said: “I felt there was a relationship problem and tensions between the UK operation and the Scottish office.
“I felt as though Mr Westgarth was being unprofessional towards me. He was disparaging and he really didn’t listen to me.
“It was defiantly bordering on harassment and I got the feeling he was trying to get rid of me.”
Miss Shepherd said that her problems with Mr Westgarth came to a head during a dinner meeting on July 3, 2007 – just hours after she escorted Prince Philip around Holyrood Palace as he handed out Gold Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
She said: “He asked me to leave and I said no.”
Miss Shepherd was then involved in a skiing accident and had to take around three months’ sick leave with a broken arm. She said when she returned Mr Westgarth began raising issues over her “management style” and the reasons behind her assistant resigning.
And in December 2007 Miss Shepherd took further sick leave, this time citing “work related stress” for her absence. She resigned the next month without returning to work and her former assistant took her job.
A colleague-based appraisal of Mr Westgarth showed Miss Shepherd had accused him of being a bully and at an employment tribunal in Edinburgh this week he admitted that she had always met, and exceeded, targets.
Following her resignation, Prince Philip sent her a letter expressing his upset at her leaving.
It read: “I’m very sorry to hear that you will be leaving the award in Scotland after 15 “action packed” years.
“The award in Scotland has made impressive progress in recent years which reflects your commitment and hard work.
“I just wanted you to know how much your dedication is appreciated and wish you well for the future,”
The note is signed “Yours Sincerely Philip”.
Giving evidence to the tribunal this week Mr Westgarth said colleagues had described Miss Shepherd as “pig-headed” and difficult to work for.
Mr Westgarth said Miss Shepherd had told him that she had been applying for other jobs and described a “challenging” relationship with his top employee north of the border.
He said: “Fairly early on in my time at the organisation she expressed that it was time to leave and that she had applied for other jobs.
“It was business, colleague-manager relationship. Sometimes it was a lot of fun, sometimes challenging but always positive about the job we had to do together.”
Mr Westgarth denied that he had asked Miss Shepherd to leave and said he had hoped that she would stay on as Scottish director.
But he insisted that other Scottish workers had come forward to complain and he was forced to act after her assistant, Barry Fisher, resigned.
Mr Westgarth said: “The month that Barry Fisher resigned was a shock, a surprise and a disappointment to a lot of people, including myself.
“He said it was because his relationship with Janet was untenable.”
Mr Westgarth said other colleagues from the Scottish office described Miss Shepherd as “pig-headed”.
He said: “Comments like pig-headedness and hell to work with were the type of comments that were coming through.”
Following a meeting over Mr Fisher Miss Shepherd went on sick leave and resigned soon after.
Miss Shepherd – who lives in Edinburgh – and the Duke of Edinburgh Award are to make written submission later this month after which Employment Judge Susan Craig will begin her deliberations.
The Duke of Edinburgh is the patron and president of the award scheme – which has around 55,000 volunteers across the UK.