Poison lingers after mental torture

22nd September 1995 at 01:00
"As a victim, how can I confess to a crime committed against me? I am a man, a rugby-playing, public-school ex-president of my student union. I admit that I was driven out of my job, my career and my profession."

Tim Hutchinson is "deeply ashamed" of allowing himself to be hounded and is still not sure whether he brought his problem on himself, however unwittingly.

Some former colleagues insist that he should not feel that way. They share some complicity - and the guilt. One said: "The bullying's over and the victim's gone, but the poison remains."

The feeling of degradation Tim suffered is shared by many victims who have spoken to The TES in recent weeks.

A successful university teacher in the early 1980s, Tim was recruited to a Midlands college as senior lecturer and head of a division in 1985. He and the division prospered.

But the principal who appointed him moved on and "an old-style, Labour borough apparatchik took over," he says.

Reorganisation plans created predatory "gangs". Many senior staff retired. But those on the wrong side of 50, like Tim, were trapped in a spiral of stressful competition. A subordinate was promoted over him.

"In his first meeting with my old staff he laid into me about my failings. He did not let up when asked to stop. He had to humiliate me publicly."

That was the first and last meeting he attended. Stripped of responsibilities, Tim Hutchinson soon found himself excluded. After the meetings he was told what was expected of him.

"Debriefings took on a regular pattern of psychological intimidation." Here again, Tim echoes the comments of others who say their aggressors used "interrogation tactics".

Tim's willingness to go on the record is, in part, because he had witnesses to some events. Others were nervous and felt that such accusations would come across as "bizarre" or "laughable".

Intimidation, quick-fire questions and probing enquiries about his personal life gradually took their toll. One senior official "would ask me why my wife wanted to leave me. Pure invention. He often made up and spread malicious stories."

He would pick on things Tim could not change - such as his accent. He said that "real lecturers should, like him, have taught in secondary school first. He would express this opinion to fellow ex-secondary teachers whenever I was in earshot."

Tim's resignation was regularly demanded and he was urged to make a new start, he says. He applied to be head of art, having been a successful professional designer before teaching and with a track record of getting most of his students to A-level grade A.

A less qualified, inexperienced part-timer was appointed instead. "He spent a year refusing to make eye contact with me."

Appeals to the principal were passed down to the head of department who supported the middle managers with whom Tim felt aggrieved. "I regularly reported the attacks that had been made on my professional, academic and personal integrity. Within a year I was writing reports to my head of department telling him that I was being made ill.

"I wrote that I was suffering from stress, depression, insomnia and lack of concentration because of the way I was being bullied."

The situation deteriorated further. His job was changed without consultation.

"I was given all the odd teaching jobs others did not want, and made to teach classes I was not competent to teach. My stress levels were such that I would vomit before entering a class.

"I became incompetent. I began to abuse sleeping pills, analgesics and alcohol. I had lost the confidence to apply for other jobs. My nervous breakdown was inevitable."

The end game was predictable and, once again, reflects what other victims of bullying have told The TES. The head of department amassed evidence to discipline Tim. He was too ill to attend the disciplinary hearing where they tried to fire him for gross misconduct.

"They botched it in their enthusiasm to get rid of me. I retired, hurt. I am still taking anti-depressants and still in therapy."

The final twist was the ultimate irony, though it gives him no satisfaction. Shortly after Tim's departure, the insensitive head was demoted - amid allegations of incompetence.

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