Look East journalist Sally Chidzoy takes BBC to employment tribunal for harassment, victimisation and sex discrimination
Victoria Jones/PA Wire
One of the BBC’s most high profile journalists in East Anglia alleges she was pursued by bosses at the corporation after raising concerns about her manager’s links to a charity funded by the Chinese government.
Look East journalist Sally Chidzoy has taken the broadcaster to an employment tribunal, which opened in Cambridge on Tuesday, for harassment, victimisation and sex discrimination.
In a 55-page statement, Miss Chidzoy, who is still working for the BBC as home affairs correspondent for the East of England, makes a series of claims, including:
-That her manager was the press spokesperson for a Cambridge charity, funded by the Chinese government, which she was investigating
-North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb allegedly interfered with one of her stories about the then boss of the East of England Ambulance Trust Anthony Marsh
-BBC managers investigated her after an email from Mr Lamb to the BBC about her story was leaked to a national newspaper
-She was told by BBC bosses to hand over her phone when they suspected her of leaking the email Mr Lamb had sent. She accuses the bosses of false imprisonment when she refused.
-She was described as a “Shih Tzu” dog by the BBC manager who investigated her, but “Shih Tzu” was deliberately misspelt
Miss Chidzoy, an award-winning journalist who has worked at the BBC for 30 years, was cleared of leaking the Mr Lamb email to the press, but she was still disciplined for forwarding on his email to BBC colleagues.
She claimed in her witness statement that her concerns about what she had discovered regarding her manager’s links to a charity with links to China were also dismissed, as was a grievance she raised.
A spokesperson for the BBC said: “The BBC is defending the tribunal case brought by Sally Chidzoy.”
The China link
Miss Chidzoy claimed that in August 2013 she was investigating a charity called the Centre for Business and Public Sector Ethics, which was receiving funding from the Chinese Government.
The charity was supporting a visit to Cambridge by the Chinese secret police.
But Miss Chidzoy said when she phoned the charity’s director for comment, Dr Rosamund Thomas, she was told their press spokesperson was a woman called Nikki O’Donnell.
Ms O’Donnell was a news editor at Look East and Miss Chidzoy’s line manager.
“I was very concerned about potential legal issues including conflict of interest, the BBC’s reputation and for the BBC’s legal obligation to remain politically independent,” she wrote in her statement to the tribunal.
She said she spoke to Ms O’Donnell about this, who told her she had declared her unpaid role at the charity as an interest to the BBC.
The BBC initially said they could not find that declaration of interest, but later said she did not need to declare one.
Miss Chidzoy said the BBC then paid the Centre for Business and Public Sector Ethics to facilitate a broadcast which BBC Look East did from Shanghai. That payment was approved by Mick Rawsthorne, head of regional and local programming.
Miss Chidzoy also raised a concern about this stating in her witness statement that the BBC was prohibited from making payments to charities.
She wrote: “In this particular case the BBC used licence payers’ funds to pay a charity that had links with the Chinese government.”
According to Miss Chidzoy’s evidence to the tribunal, she was not correctly line managed after raising her concerns about the Chinese incident and she was eventually disciplined.
She claims Ms O’Donnell told her in one meeting that people did not like her and she needed retraining.
She also alleged there was a “campaign” from Ms O’Donnell to undermine her, which included sending her emails to HR which included party invitations and jokes she sent to colleagues.
She said in her witness statement: “Following my disclosure about Ms O’Donnell’s outside interests in August 2013 I believe that I was ostracised isolated and left without management support... no appraisals of my work were conducted in the last few years.”
The Norman Lamb email
In 2014 Miss Chidzoy began investigating the then chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) Anthony Marsh. Mr Marsh was also working at the time for the West Midlands Ambulance Service and Miss Chidzoy planned to run a piece about his expenses and pay.
Miss Chidzoy had information that Mr Marsh’s pay was higher than the reported £230,000 and that the taxpayer was also spending thousands of pounds on hotels for Mr Marsh and a driver to chauffeur him between his two jobs in the West Midlands and East Anglia.
But before her piece was broadcast Miss Chidzoy alleged Mr Lamb, who was a supporter of Mr Marsh, sent an email to her manager at the BBC Steve Silk about the Anthony Marsh story.
Her story was then dropped and never broadcast.
She claimed Mr Silk came to visit her in Cambridge and was “hostile and aggressive”.
She went on to allege: “I raised a number of protected disclosures about abuse by Norman Lamb of his ministerial position to exert political influence that affected the BBC’s editorial decisions evidenced by his communications with the BBC.”
She added: “It felt as if the subject matter of my complaints was being covered up... instead there was an attempt to victimise me.”
The BBC reviewed her grievance but found Mr Lamb’s raising of issues with the BBC was nothing more than a “standard editorial complaint”.
The email from Mr Lamb to Mr Silk was also leaked to the Mail on Sunday, according to Miss Chidzoy’s evidence and she was suspected as the source of the leak.
The journalist said the BBC internal investigation focused on her rather than anyone else.
As part of that investigation, she said two BBC managers, Sandra Howarth and Peter Cook asked for her phone during a meeting.
She refused, fearing her sources could be compromised. She went on to claim that she was “falsely imprisoned” in the meeting.
“I was told that I could not leave the room,” she wrote in her statement.
Miss Chidzoy said she was investigated by former Metropolitan police officers who the BBC employ to investigate internal matters.
“I was being treated as if I was a criminal,” she said.
Part of the sexual discrimination claim, which forms a section of Miss Chidzoy’s tribunal, also centres on this investigation into her.
She claimed Mick Rawsthorne, head of regional and local programming, sent an email referring to her as a “Shih Tzu” which was misspelt.
Miss Chidzoy was cleared of leaking the email to the Mail on Sunday but was disciplined for forwarding Mr Lamb’s email to Mr Silk to BBC colleagues.
She was given a written warning which stated the BBC’s “trust and confidence” in her had been “severely damaged”.
Miss Chidzoy’s case to the tribunal is that this punishment was “unjustified and disproportionate”.
Norman Lamb response
Mr Lamb said it was difficult for him to make any comment without knowing what the email said, but said he was always pursuing concerns about health and care on behalf of both patients and the staff of organisations.
On the allegation he had interfered, he said the wording was “pejorative” and MPs had every right, on behalf of their constituents to raise issues with the press, or even to challenge a story that is being pursued”.
“The idea I should be criticised in any way for raising concerns on behalf of constituents is ridiculous and of course no-one in the BBC has come to me to raise any concerns about what I raised.
“I am doing my job and it is important I can do it without fear or favour. Journalists should sometimes be challenged on issues they are raising or the angles they are pursuing and the other side of the story.
“But it is quite difficult to report on it, to be honest, while we don’t know what the actual core of the issue was. Obviously this was a pleading from a claimant in a tribunal.
“But I take great exception to the idea of interfering when I have a responsibility to do my job properly.”
•The tribunal continues