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Saturday, 13 July 2013

Suicide BBC Journalist: Father Speaks Out

The father of a BBC journalist who committed suicide has spoken out about some of the pressures his son faced at work.

Last week the Warwickshire Deputy Coroner Louise Hunt ruled that Russell Joslin, a reporter at BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, took his own life after making a series of complaints about an unnamed woman, identified as Colleague A in a BBC report into the tragedy.

Russell's father, retired Warwickshire Police Chief Constable Peter Joslin QPM, recently gave an interview to BBC Radio 5 Live's Victoria Derbyshire. A transcript of the interview, which aired at 10:06 am on 9th July 2013, is given below:

Victoria Derbyshire (VD): Six minutes past ten. Good morning, this is 5 Live. This morning, in an exclusive interview, the father of a BBC journalist who took his own life after claiming he was sexually harassed by a female colleague tells us he believes BBC managers should be held to account for the way his son's complaint was handled. 

Fifty-year-old Russell Joslin, a radio reporter for BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, died in hospital last October. He'd made five allegations of unwanted advances and harassment against his colleague. A coroner's inquest last week recorded a verdict of suicide and found that there were many factors surrounding Russell Joslin's death, including work dissatisfaction and his mental state, but that it would be wrong to attribute blame to a single one. The coroner also ruled that the BBC employee Mr Joslin alleged sexually harassed him, could not be named because the complaints were not proven.

In his first and only interview Russell Joslin's father, Peter Joslin, former Chief Constable of Warwickshire Police, told us about the sort of harassment his son had reported.

Peter Joslin (PJ): The colleague that he was referring to made life very difficult for him. He was asked when she came to the BBC, that Russell showed her around. Russell had lived in the county for a very long time, and he took her around various places and it seems she misunderstood the relationship there was between Russell and her. Russell didn't want anything other than a working relationship.

VD: And what did he say was going on in this relationship?

PJ: Well, as far as he was concerned nothing apart from he was showing her around the patch. And, of course, we have records. Russell being a real journalist, the evening that it all came out - when she phoned him and said some rather unkind and nasty, rude things to him - being the journalist that he is, he recorded it all on his phone.

VD: And these voice mails: were they regarded by your son as bullying, intimidating, sexual harassment?

PJ: Yes, because she said "you'll never be regarded as anything more than a mediocre £27,000 a year reporter".

VD: Did he regard that as bullying?

PJ: Yes. I think what frightened Russell about them - you know, some people think he might have been a wimp, but a very strong character was Russell - was he loved his work with the BBC. He was frightened that if pressures were put on - and things were said and done about him, which might cause him to lose his job - then he would be very worried indeed. He played along, I suppose, with playing the good guy. Not only that, of course, but he's a professional and his job was to read the news, and to report daily all sorts of incidents, and he really just wanted to keep away from this particular person.

VD: You've allowed us to listen to some of the voice mails that were left on your son's phone. They read: "Thanks for abandoning me. Don't ever, ever think of me as your (expletive) mate again. Do what you have to do at the BBC, because you're a loser on 27 grand a year, but don't ever encroach on me or my talent"; "You are flaky, you are poor, you are weak. Don't ever think of me as an equal again. I don't want anything to do with you"; and a third said "Don't ever, ever presume any (expletive) friendship".

PJ: I think it says a lot about the person themselves. I was surprised that Russell put up with it, but as I say he didn't want to rock the boat. He loved working for the BBC and he didn't want anything to interfere with that.

VD: Do you regard those kind of voice mails as bullying or sexual harassment?

PJ: I didn't see it as badly as Russell. When I heard of it - in fact Russell didn't talk to me about that sort of thing very often - I didn't see it as particularly serious, but in the last couple of years - when I've seen him break up from a strong, powerful, independent individual, to someone who had to spend two spells in a mental hospital, for only a few days at a time fortunately. Whatever happened regarding this particular relationship, or poor relationship, that they had made him very, very sad indeed. As I say, he went downhill quite quickly.

VD: How did his behaviour change as this working relationship with the colleague deteriorated?

PJ: Well he gradually broke down. We didn't witness it all the way through, but at the end he believed that people were following him, and that things were going to happen to him, and he also had it in his mind that because I'd been the Chief Constable of Warwickshire for 15 years that there were people who would want to get me as well and suggested that we should leave the house where we live. 

I thought it was comical at first, until I looked at him and realised how desperate he was. Anyhow, he went to Stratford-on-Avon where he was to stay the night with my son-in-law, but he said he didn't want to bring any problems to them, and in the end my son-in-law - who is a consultant psychologist as it happens - decided to bring in the authorities and the best place for him to go was to some sort of overnight stay at a mental hospital.

VD: Do you know if your son made any official complaints to BBC managers during this whole period?

PJ: Yes. There's two instances. The first instance was soon after the falling out between the two of them that I spoke about. He didn't want any action taken, he just really wanted it on record. And then of course in the 10 or 12 days before he died, he went to see the people who dealt with health business at the BBC and said that he now wanted to raise his original complaint and would like some action taken. They told him there that they had no record of his original complaint. He left there, the person who saw him, he looked like he'd just given up, because he knew very well that he'd reported it, he wanted it kept available in case things got worse or didn't improve, and now he'd reached a stage where he thought something else had to be done, yet they said they hadn't received his original complaints.

However, and this is the very bad - caused the situation to go worse than we possibly expected - he found out that they had in fact found it - they were aware of it - but didn't tell him that that was the case, and then, I suppose he thought there was some sort of conspiracy against him and of course he deteriorated mentally quite quickly.

VD: The woman that you say sexually harassed your son cannot be named. What do you think about that?

PJ: I can't understand that. I'm the longest serving police officer in this country. I was a police officer for 44 years, and I cannot understand as to why that is so. I assume that there must be reasons within the media that I don't understand, but I was quite happy...

VD: ...libel.

PJ: Well yes, but it's the truth. We have evidence. Now you think about the tapes. There's evidence on there as to exactly what has happened and plenty of other evidence that would have supported his case against this particular individual.

VD: What was Russell like as a man?

PJ: Well, you know, Russell was a formidable character. I think what annoys my family and my wife and I in particular is that they make him sound like some sort of a wimp that couldn't stand up to the pressures of this sort, but that's completely untrue. I mean Russell came up the hard way. He worked for a news agency to start with, where he didn't get any pay unless he got published stories. He did that for several years and then he went on a course for radio journalism, then he did freelance all over - in Shropshire, he loved Shropshire when he worked down there - then he really reached his pinnacle to get a place as a reporter with the BBC in Coventry and Warwickshire.

VD: Your son did make an official complaint last year in 2012 to BBC managers and this was prompted by him seeing a BBC employee who alleged, during the Jimmy Savile affair, that she had been assaulted in the past. What was your son's mood after that?

PJ: Very depressed. He really thought that the people that he saw were in a position that he thought they were able to improve his position, and he was absolutely gutted. Somebody saw him afterwards saying "this is the end, you can't beat the system". He was home for nearly a week after that and I could see that things had got to him, and he was really shattered by it.

VD: Right. And how was his official complaint handled, as far as you know?

PJ: Well, I think what annoyed him about - what broke him in the end after his visit to Pebble Mill - was that they said there had been no official complaint. Now he knew there was, because he'd made sure it was there. However, soon after the two ladies that interviewed him found the record of the complaints that he'd made, but decided at that time not to say anything about it and they didn't get in touch with Russell and he didn't learn until a few days later that they had, in fact, found the very complaints that he was talking about.

VD: The BBC has conducted two inquiries into what happened. One was an internal fact-finding investigation, which hasn't been published - we know it did find no grounds for proceeding with an allegation of sexual harassment and/or bullying, but it said that there was evidence that the standards of behaviour were not met. And the second report was an independent report called the Granger Report. It was published, it has been published, and it looked at the BBC's handling of your son's complaints. It found evidence of a bullying culture in the BBC Coventry and Warwickshire news room that on occasion left many in tears and could have had a significant influence on why your son didn't make a formal complaint earlier. Do you accept that?

PJ: I do. I thought that Lesley Granger's report was sympathetic, accurate and we were quite supportive of it. Perhaps it didn't go as far as we'd want it to go, but it was a very fair report.

VD: And that no specific conversations he had with his line managers or others - no specific incidents were referred to in his appraisals over a number of years.

PJ: Well I didn't see his appraisals. All I know is that they fell short in not letting Russell know earlier that they had found the records and they were aware of what Russell had said some 4 or 5 years before.

VD: What do you think broadly about the way the BBC handled your son and the complaints he was making?

PJ: Well I think the results suggest they didn't do very well. He didn't get a great deal of sympathy from people who were his immediate superiors and I think that I will always hold that against them, but generally speaking I am not going to say unkind things about the BBC. I of course worked with the BBC during my time in the police service and I've got a lot of friends, over the years I've built friendships with a lot of people who still work with the BBC and I think that they're probably the best news organisation that I've ever experienced and I've travelled all over the world. I just think it doesn't mean to say as good as they are that people haven't made mistakes, and what I would like to see is those people held responsible for the mistakes that they made.

VD: What do you mean by that?

PJ: Well, they're holding down positions where perhaps they might not have learnt their lessons in Russell's case, and I wouldn't want it to happen to any other parents. That's all I can really say. It's very difficult to discuss still Russell with the coroner's court only last Friday and it was a hard day for the whole family.

VD: What has the impact been on you and your wife and wider family?

PJ: Well, we've come a lot closer together. The house is full of them - children and sons and relatives - and that's been a good thing, but I think that's what families are for really. I feel so sorry for people that undergo something like this and haven't got family, and haven't got friends. Fortunately Kathy and I have a tremendous number of friends and, of course, our loving relatives.

VD: The BBC has apologies unreservedly to you and your family for the way complaints your son made about harassment were dealt with, and you've just said there are people still in positions who perhaps shouldn't be because of the way they didn't take your son's complaint seriously. The organisation's introduced a number of changes including setting up a confidential helpline for staff concerned about bullying or harassment, and increased face-to-face counselling. Do you have any comment to make about that?

PJ: I think that's a move in the right direction. I'm just surprised that an organisation like the BBC hadn't gone that far before - Russell had to lose his life to bring it about. But as I say, we've been very impressed by what the head people from the BBC - the seriousness that they've taken...

VD: ... Now? The seriousness that they've taken now?

PJ: Yes, the attitude that they've taken since, and what they are doing to make sure it doesn't happen to someone else's son.

VD: Peter Joslin. In a statement following the publication of the Granger Report the BBC said: "Russell Joslin was a respected and much-loved member of the team at Radio Coventry and Warwickshire. He's greatly missed. The BBC extends our deepest condolences to Russell's family, friends and colleagues. 

"We apologised unreservedly at the time of the Granger Report for the way the BBC handled Russell's concerns and we apologise again today to Russell's family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time. We've learned lessons from this and we've made progress with the recommendations outlined in Lesley Granger's report, but we recognise that this is an ongoing process. 

"The BBC would like to assure Russell's family that we remain absolutely committed to implementing these improvements."

Interview transcribed by the TV Licensing Blog.

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