BBC Newsnight worker ‘sacked over gay harassment’

A senior BBC editor who worked on News at Ten and Newsnight subjected a colleague to a campaign of homosexual harassment a tribunal heard.

The victim, named only as Andrew, was a news organiser in the corporation’s political programmes department when he began receiving unwanted attention from Jonathan Steer, it was claimed.

Mr Steer, a picture editor for who worked alongside senior staff John Simpson and Nick Robinson, claims his behaviour was a “cry for help”.

The Central London Employment Tribunal heard that after Andrew was invited to dinner with Mr Steer, he was bombarded with messages discussing their “sexual chemistry”.

The victim, who is now a senior broadcast journalist, also received dozens of phone calls in the middle of the night.

The victim’s former partner was sent messages from Mr Steer, 42, which included a link posted on Facebook, the social networking site, that asked “how good are you at gay sex?”.

Mr Steer, who was based in the corporation’s Westminster office in Millbank, sent the messages under pseudonyms including “Lionheart”.

The tribunal was told they had left his victim terrified he would turn up at his home late at night.

Mr Steer, who began work for the BBC in 1996, also allegedly sent a letter to Andrew’s elderly parents in which he refers to an HIV test.

Mr Steer, who suffers from bipolar disorder, was subsequently dismissed from his role and is now claiming disability discrimination and unfair dismissal.

The tribunal was told that the harassment began after the dinner in December 2008.

In his witness statement, Andrew said Mr Steer insisted on paying for dinner, kissed him on the cheek to say goodbye and then implied to colleagues that the pair had become intimate.

Mr Steer sent threatening message including one through a Facebook alias called Sir Richard Lionheart warning that “if I was you I would try to rebuild bridges pretty rapidly for your sake, but I feel it may be too late.”

It was signed “A friend”.

He later received another message from Scott Bainbridge, who claimed to be Mr Steer’s best friend, saying that Mr Steer was quite taken by him and asking that if the feelings were not reciprocated he be let down gently.

The tribunal was told that “Scott Bainbridge” was in fact Mr Steer. Andrew then informed his managers.

He told the hearing: “I started to worry about what Jonathan might do and when this would all end.

“I was starting to think that he might turn up at my home. I was concerned that if he did turn up and did something awful then no one might know what had happened.”

During a disciplinary meeting in July 2009 Mr Steer admitted that Lionheart and Bainbridge were his creations but explained that his bipolar condition meant he could sometimes do things which he could not later recall.

Mr Steer was given a written warning and several months later returned to work.

But in April last year he began emailing Andrew again.

Because crossover between the BBCs Millbank centre and the Television Centre was quite common, corporation managers decided the pair could not be professionally separated.

Mr Steer was subsequently dismissed and paid in lieu of notice in November last year. He believes he should have been redeployed to another office.

On the day Mr Steer lost his appeal against dismissal, he allegedly sent a letter to Andrew’s parents referring to an HIV test.

Andrew said: “They were deeply shocked by the letter, as I was when I learned of it and its contents. My parents are both in their 60s and 70s respectively.”

Mr Steer claims his employers did not make allowances for the fact that he is disabled.

He said: “Having depression with bipolar is a very dark experience and that fear, sadness and loneliness will live with me forever.

“These managers continually referred to their duty of care towards Andrew which is as it should be, but I also believed that they had a duty of care towards me and that they failed me.”

Referring to the disciplinary hearing, he added: “During the meeting I was totally shocked and distressed by the nature of the messages I had sent Andrew and told (him) it was like reading them for the first time.

“I have been told that when someone is in a manic state they are quite often unable to remember what they have done.”

“I’m told that I sent another couple of emails to him, which I do not recall even to this day. But reading them now it sounds like a cry for help.”

He said depression and bipolar was a “very dark experience”. He said that “fear, sadness and loneliness will live with me forever”.

“In the end I lost my job which I loved and was very good at as a result of my mental health condition which I consider was not properly managed by my managers,” he told the tribunal.

“These managers continually referred to their duty of care towards Andrew which is as it should be, but I also believed that they had a duty of care towards me and that they failed me.”

The hearing continues.

About elaineonyc

HR generalist who is passionate about the benefits of good HR practice. Experienced in delivering strategic and operational HR initiatives to clients in both public and private sectors. Specialises in working with SMEs.
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