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Groundbreaking bullying and stress damages award
Long v. Mercury Mobile Communications Services
Admission of liability for first stress breakdown

Tuesday 8 May 2001

In what is believed to be a groundbreaking case, the victim of sustained bullying while working for Mercury Mobile Communications Services, part of the Cable & Wireless Group, was awarded over 370,000 in compensation at a High Court hearing in Winchester on 4 May 2001.

Jeffery Long, now aged 47, described by the Judge as a high flier, began working for Mercury as a Procurement Manager at their Headquarters in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, in 1991. After a highly successful first year, in August 1992, company directors asked him to report on difficulties being experienced at their stock warehouse in Leeds.

Mr Long's report was critical of the way the warehouse was being managed by Simon Stone, who was also Mr Long's line manager. Instead of keeping the report confidential as promised, Mr Stone was told of the contents and its author.

As a result, Mr Stone embarked on what the Judge described as vendetta against Mr Long. Over the course of some 3 months, Mr Long was subjected to a catalogue of open abuse and false accusations, completely undermining Mr Long's position with other staff and suppliers. Although Mr Long complained to senior management about the treatment, nothing was done to support him and eventually Mr Stone had Mr Long suspended on charges of disclosing confidential information.

Although the complaint was dismissed, Mr Long was demoted from his post and all his contacts with suppliers severed. The trauma caused Mr Long to suffer what was later diagnosed as an Adjustment Disorder from he has still not recovered. The impact of the disorder causes Mr Long to suffer anxiety and an inability to deal with personal relationships.

The effects of his illness, led to the breakdown of Mr Long's marriage and meant he was unable to recover his position with Mercury. He was eventually made redundant in 1994 since when he has been unable to cope with working in a normal working environment and has struggled to build his own business a Commercial Agent.

The award of 327,710 by the Winchester High Court was made at the end of a 4 day trial during which lawyers for Mercury, after hearing Mr Long's evidence, formally admitted liability for the actions which led to Mr Long's illness.

At trial, Mr Long was represented by Andrew Buchan, a leading barrister specialising in the field of work related stress claims. "We believe this case to be very important" Said Mr Buchan "As not only do I believe it to be the largest award made by a court made in a 'stress' case, but it is also the first time there has been an open court admission of legal liability for a first breakdown case."

Damages for work related stress were first awarded in 1995 in the landmark case of John Walker who was also represented by Andrew Buchan. Mr Walker suffered two nervous breakdowns caused by overwork and inadequate support in his job as a social worker. His employers, Northumberland County Council, were found liable for the damage caused by the second nervous breakdown as, by then, they knew of the danger posed by an excessive workload.

"The distinction in Mr Long's case," explained Mr Buchan, "is that liability was admitted and damages have been awarded for the consequences of a first illness not a recurrence of earlier problems. This represents a major breakthrough."

Mr Long's case was handled from its start in 1996 by Nick Hanning, a Legal Executive with Reynolds Williams solicitors of Poole, Dorset, who acknowledged the difficulties with the case. "Ever since court action was started 4 years ago, the case has been fought tooth and nail" Mr Hanning said. "Although liability was admitted after two days of the trial, Mercury continued to fight practically every aspect of the claim for damages. The evidence produced for Mr Long was very strong and the Judge found for him on every count."

Besides the potential legal significance, the outcome of the case is important for two reasons according to Mr Hanning. "First, it is a massive vindication for Mr Long who has had his personal life and what would have been a highly successful career destroyed by the actions of one man and the failure of his employers, a massive world wide corporation, to offer any support.

Secondly, it serves as a stark message to employers everywhere that they will be liable for the devastating effect management bullies can have on staff. Bullying in the workplace is still depressingly common and employers must act now to prevent further tragedies."

For further press information please contact Nick Hanning on 01202 466669.

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