Chief Exec of Duke of Edinburgh awards cleared over ‘bullying’ claims

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peterwestgarthBy Paul Thornton

THE chief executive of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme has been cleared over claims that he bullied the organisation’s Scottish director into quitting the charity.

Janet Shepherd – who had risen to the top job in Scotland for the DofE – said that Peter Westgarth forced her out of her job of 17 years and was claiming unfair dismissal and breach of contract.

The 56-year-old resigned from her post in January last year following a bout of absence due to “work related stress”.

Miss Shepherd had taken her complaints to an employment tribunal which she told Mr Westgarth bullied her and made “disparaging” remarks about her management after he took over at the head of the scheme in 2005.

But now the tribunal – which heard evidence from both Miss Shepherd and Mr Westgarth during hearings in Edinburgh – has dismissed the claims as “fanciful”, stating that Miss Shepherd “resented” her new boss.

In a 48-page written judgment, Employment Judge Susan Craig said: “In relation to Mr Westgarth overall the tribunal found him to be a credible and straight forward witness.

“While the tribunal did not form the view that the claimant was being deliberately untruthful it was persuaded that her account was not completely reliable.

“She perhaps resented a brighter light being shone on her management of the office.

“It was also clear from the evidence that for good or ill the claimant’s management style was unwelcomed by a number of her colleagues at all levels in the organisation.”

The tribunal dismissed all of Miss Shepherd’s complaints.

Following the decision Mr Westgarth said he was “delighted” and now hoped to focus on developing opportunities for youngsters through the organisation.

Mr Westgarth said: “We are delighted that The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award has been successful in defending the case brought by Janet Shepherd and that we have been commended by the tribunal judges for our professionalism and care in our handling of the situation.

Complaint

“Following the recent positive HMIe report the DofE in Scotland looks forward to focusing its support on working together to provide many more opportunities for young people across Scotland through the DofE programme.”

Lucy McLynn, who represented the award scheme at the tribunal, welcomed the decision but insisted that Miss Shepherd should not have raised the complaint.

janetshepherdShe said: “Clearly the organisation are of the view that this was a great waste of the tribunal’s time and public money as well as charitable money on the part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award.”

Miss Shepherd’s solicitor, Gordon Bathgate, said he was unable to discuss the case.

Miss Shepherd had claimed 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.

Upset

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.

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”.

The Duke of Edinburgh is the patron and president of the award scheme – which has around 55,000 volunteers across the UK.

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