Look East reporter Sally Chidzoy claims BBC ‘bullying’ drove her to taking time off with stress

BBC Look East journalist Sally Chidzoy at an employment tribunal hearing in Cambridge on Tuesday Feb

BBC Look East journalist Sally Chidzoy at an employment tribunal hearing in Cambridge on Tuesday February 7. She alleges she was subject to harassment, victimisation and sexual discrimination at the BBC. - Credit: PA

An award-winning BBC Look East reporter went off work with stress after claiming she was 'bullied' by bosses for raising concerns that the corporation's editorial independence was being compromised.

BBC Look East television. Photo: Archant

BBC Look East television. Photo: Archant - Credit: EDP Archant

Sally Chidzoy, who has worked for the BBC for 30 years, alleged she was harassed and discriminated against after first raising concerns in 2013 about her line manager's links to a charity she was investigating.

The 56-year old also said she was worried about the level of influence North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who was a health minister at the time, was exerting on the BBC.

Miss Chidzoy is claiming harassment, sexual discrimination and victimisation against the BBC at an employment tribunal at Cambridge Magistrates Court.

A witness for Miss Chidzoy, Emma Corlett, a mental health nurse and a Norfolk County councillor for Labour, spoke at the tribunal on Wednesday regarding supposed interference from Mr Lamb on a BBC story.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. Photo: DENISE BRADLEY

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. Photo: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

Following an interview she did in June 2014 for the BBC's Sunday Politics East Show, Mr Lamb contacted Deborah McGurran, the BBC's Political Editor for the East of England.

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Mr Lamb stated his concerns that Ms Corlett 'deliberately and cynically' politicised the issue of mental health service cuts.

Ms Corlett said: 'I was surprised by that level of interference from a minister.'

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Miss Chidzoy also told the panel that she became concerned about interference when researching a story about the wages of the former East of England Ambulance Service chief executive Anthony Marsh.

The event will be held at The Forum in Norwich. Photo: Archant

The event will be held at The Forum in Norwich. Photo: Archant - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2008

While pursuing the story, she became aware of a late night email sent by Mr Lamb to her then editor Steve Silk raising issues with her piece.

She claims that her story was subsequently killed off.

Speaking at the tribunal on Wednesday, she said: 'I was concerned that the BBC's editorial independence was under attack.

'I read this (the email) as a direct attempt to impact the output of the BBC.

Labour Norfolk County councillor Emma Corlett gave evidence at the tribunal in support of Sally Chid

Labour Norfolk County councillor Emma Corlett gave evidence at the tribunal in support of Sally Chidzoy. Photo: Steve Adams - Credit: Archant

'It is not fair to say I was annoyed (at the story not being run) I was disappointed.

'I felt I was starting to build a file on Norman Lamb and his emails. I had quite a few and not just from within the BBC.'

Following Mr Lamb's message, sent in July 2014, Miss Chidzoy claims Mr Silk went out of his way to prevent her from running her story.

She said in court that she sent a text message to Mr Silk stating that she was 'not going to be gagged by Lamb and co.'

The BBC denies it was influenced by Mr Lamb and Mr Lamb denies interfering with BBC stories.

Mr Lamb said: 'Journalists should sometimes be challenged on issues they are raising or the angles they are pursuing.'

Mr Silk and the BBC claim that Miss Chidzoy's story about the ambulance service chief executive was not run due to factual discrepancies which could not be agreed upon.

A number of stories about Mr Marsh similar to those Miss Chidzoy had been working on were run in the national press and Miss Chidzoy denies that a lack of research from her was an issue.

She claims Mr Silk told her to make a Freedom Of Information request to back up information she had already been given by the East of England Ambulance Service regarding her story on Mr Marsh.

She said: 'I was very upset to the point I went off with stress. The attack on me for alleged breaches of editorial standards cut very deeply.

'I was terribly upset. In fact, I cried at that.'

The email in question from Mr Lamb to Mr Silk was consequently leaked to a freelance journalist called Paul Cahalan, who at the time was working for the Mail on Sunday.

He gave a witness statement to the tribunal where he denied that he received the email from Miss Chidzoy.

But because of the leak, the BBC launched an investigation into Miss Chidzoy - in which she states that ex-Metropolitan Police officers made her 'feel like a criminal'.

She believes the investigation purely focused on her and was set up to pin the release of the email on her.

The probe found there was no evidence Miss Chidzoy was the source of the leak to Mr Cahalan.

But she was later disciplined by the BBC for sending the email between Mr Lamb and Mr Silk to colleagues.

•The tribunal continues

What the tribunal must decide

•Whistleblowing? The journalist's case argues that she made 'protected disclosures', better known as whistleblowing, about her concerns regarding Norman Lamb's influence on the BBC and her line manager's links to a charity connected to the Chinese government. If an employee makes a protected disclosure they are protected from detrimental treatment under the Employment Rights Act.

•Sex discrimination? Part of the journalist's evidence for sex discrimination is an email from BBC manger Mick Rawsthorne describing her as a 'dangerous dog' and a 'Shih Tzu' which was deliberately misspelt. She argues that was sexist.

•Harassment? She alleges the BBC probe into who leaked an email from Mr Lamb focused on her. The disciplinary process against her was harassment, she claims.

•Victimisation? Miss Chidzoy alleges she was victimised through the disciplinary process, among other things.

Timeline of Miss Chidzoy's case

August 2013: Investigating a story about a charity called the Centre for Business and Public Sector Ethics and its links to the Chinese government, Miss Chidzoy discovers the organisation's press spokesperson is her line manager at the BBC, Nikki O'Donnell.

December 2013: Miss Chidzoy claims she is subjected to 'verbal aggression and unjustified criticism' from Ms O'Donnell after raising her concerns about her link to the charity.

July 2014: Miss Chidzoy investigates claims about the then chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service, Anthony Marsh, for a story. Before her story is broadcast Mr Lamb sends an email to Miss Chidzoy's manager Steve Silk about the story. Miss Chidzoy's story is not run but similar stories about Mr Marsh appear in national newspapers.

August 2014: Miss Chidzoy is investigated by the BBC after Mr Lamb's email to Mr Silk is leaked to a national newspaper.

September 2014: Miss Chidzoy claims she is 'ambushed' by BBC bosses in a meeting who ask her to hand her phone over.

December 2014: The BBC's head of regional and local programming Mick Rawsthorne allegedly refers to Miss Chidzoy as a 'dangerous dog' and 'Shih Tzu' in an email.

March 2015: Miss Chidzoy is cleared of leaking the Mr Lamb email but is investigated for sending the email to BBC colleagues.

August 2015: Miss Chidzoy is disciplined. The BBC state their trust in her has been 'severely damaged'.

September 2015: She appeals the disciplinary against her.

November 2015: The journalist lodges a grievance over the email referring to her as a Shih Tzu.

January 2016: Her grievance is not upheld by the BBC.

February 2017: Miss Chidzoy takes the BBC to employment tribunal.

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