School Employee Alleges Council Boss Had Her Spied On
A Five Islands School employee has alleged she was harassed, and her home monitored, by the Chief Executive of the Isles of Scilly Council, Philip Hygate.
Julie Hicks, who is the personal assistant to the school head teacher, has described the events in a three-page letter and supporting documentation sent to all councillors and school governors on Tuesday and which was leaked to Radio Scilly.
She said she was called to a meeting in Mr Hygate’s office in July, accompanied by her sister, Debbie Rigby who also works for the Council as HR manager. No representatives of the school governing body were present.
During the meeting, Mrs Hicks alleges Mr Hygate said she would be suspended from her school role for booking personal flights on a specially discounted school rate. She claims he told her that there was a lack of evidence from the auditors to prove that she had paid for these.
Mrs Hicks claims she was offered a secondment away from the school to Park House.
She also alleges Mr Hygate told her that her home was being monitored and that he, “demonstrated detailed knowledge” of who had been visiting her and when. She says she felt so upset about this that she reported it to the police.
Mrs Hicks alleges Mr Hygate made repeated reference to her daughter and daughter’s partner, who are employed and housed by the Council, and she says in her letter that, “it was clear to both myself and my sister that this was an implied threat to ensure we did not ‘rock the boat’ and comply with his demand not to speak of this with anyone.”
It was made clear in the discussion, writes Mrs Hicks, that the good name and integrity which she enjoys in the community was about to be destroyed and that she was “totally devastated and shocked.”
But after the meeting, Mrs Hicks says she was contacted by the Council’s Head of Human Resources, Peter Lawrence-Roberts, and reinstated immediately into her current role.
She has subsequently received written confirmation from Mr Lawrence-Roberts, on behalf of the Authority, that the auditors were not investigating her for any financial irregularity and they had not called for her suspension. He has also confirmed that the school governing body are responsible for all staffing matters, not the Council.
In response to questions from Radio Scilly News, Mr Hygate said he was surprised that the matter was being raised now, so many months after the meeting.
He claimed the meeting had been called at the written request of the acting head teacher, who was away from the islands at the time, and that Mrs Hicks’ sister, Debbie Rigby, had suggested bringing forward the meeting to limit any anxiety building for her sister. Mr Hygate says he agreed to the meeting “with the intention of the benefit of all concerned.”
He said any decision to suspend a member of staff would rest independently with the school governors and not with the Council and that he would not be involved in any such decision. But he added that, “there is always a risk of suspension to those being questioned in a forensic audit.“
He said he had, “no interest in or means of monitoring visitors to Mrs Hicks’ house,” and he was merely repeating concerns made by school staff that she had continued to have contact with the suspended head teacher, Bryce Wilby.
He denies discussing the employment and housing of her family. Mr Hygate says he mentioned “how lucky she was to have her family on the isles, as part of pleasant conversation to normalise, and lighten the atmosphere in an attempt to keep Mrs Hicks at her ease.”
And Mr Hygate claims Mrs Rigby had suggested the secondment, on Mrs Hicks’ existing salary and terms and conditions, to “ease tension within the school and allow her sister to work away from the atmosphere within the school environment.”
Last night, Mr Hygate emailed all councillors and governors with a copy of the questions posed by Radio Scilly and his answers. In an accompanying note he wrote that Mrs Hicks had not chosen to raise her allegations with him or with any officer of the Council over the three months since their meeting.
But that claim is at odds with Peter Lawrence-Robert’s correspondence with Mrs Hicks and his involvement in reversing her secondment to Park House.
Council chair, Mike Hicks, who is also the father-in-law of Julie Hicks, said he is aware of the letter and has handed the matter over to vice chair Amanda Martin for further investigation because of the close family connection.
But he told us he’s concerned that the matter was dealt with in the way it was, especially at a time when the Council was under such intense external scrutiny following the suspension of the head teacher and the subsequent auditors’ investigation.
And Mike says he believes that Julie’s allegations are true.
Mr Hicks says it’s unlikely that this new information will form part of the extraordinary Council meeting, set to be held in secret on Tuesday, that will examine the conduct of Philip Hygate. But he says the matter won’t be ignored and will be dealt with “fully and thoroughly.”