A government worker bombarded a former colleague with self-written love songs and poems for her in the run up to her wedding.
Civil servant William Darroch pursued Ainsley McArthur with romantically motivated texts and emails over the course of several months, including songs and poems, written and performed by Darroch, that made reference to McArthur’s ‘smile and lips’ and other physical attributes. Darroch also described wanting to sing his victim to sleep and outlined several romantic activities he wanted to pursue with her.
According to Greenock Sheriff Court, the pair first met in 2008 when they both started working for the Department for Work and Pensions in Glasgow.
McArthur left the DWP in 2019 but she remained in contact with Darroch, who subsequently refused to stop contacting her when asked to do so in 2020.
The court heard he wrote and recorded four songs for her and sent her a poem shortly before her wedding. She reported Darroch to the police, but even with the threat of legal action, he continued his barrage.
McArthur told the court: "He sent a message telling me he missed me and had written songs about me and wanted me to have them.
"He sent four songs to me which were all very personal and quite alarming.
"They were recorded by Mr Darroch about me, on guitar and playing the mouth organ.
"He was describing in detail how I looked physically. In another, he was saying he wanted to sing me to sleep - I found all of that really quite alarming.”
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She went on: "He was saying where he wanted to go with me in spring, summer, autumn and winter. He said he wanted to walk in the summer through the sand, in autumn through the leaves and in winter through the snow.
"In the fourth song he talked about how I dressed, my smile, my hair, my lips."
After his number was blocked, Darroch resorted to emailing his victim instead, writing her poetry and apologising for his actions.
McArthur said Darroch was “relentless” in his messaging and that his “distressing” actions had distracted her from her wedding preparations.
She described feeling "fearful" of his romantic pursuits.
Ultimately, Darroch was convicted of causing fear or alarm, and was handed a Non-Harassment Order, banning him from contacting McArthur in any way for a year.
HR’s place in fighting workplace harassment
While Darroch’s appalling actions occurred after the pair had ceased to be colleagues, the situation does put the spotlight on the ease with which boundaries can be overstepped with co-workers.
Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, recently offered advice on the importance of managing working relationships and setting appropriate boundaries within the workplace*...
“No matter where you work, there should always be appropriate boundaries in place, and the environment in which you carry out your role should not affect the dynamic of managing working relationships or setting appropriate boundaries.
“Any unwarranted or unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated, or offended, even if it wasn’t originally intended to, is considered sexual harassment. This covers a wide range of actions, including but not limited to, flirting, gesturing, or making sexual remarks about someone’s body, clothing, or appearance, telling sexually offensive jokes, asking questions about someone’s sex life, sexual orientation, and touching someone against their will, including hugging or massaging.
“It is therefore extremely important that employers and HR managers are aware of what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour, as well as the actions that can be deemed as unwarranted behaviour and are able to have open conversations with their colleagues, so they feel comfortable speaking up if any unwanted or inappropriate behaviour happens.”
“Any claims of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously. As discussed previously, if the victim feels intimidated, degraded, or humiliated by the action of another person, then employers need to carry out a thorough investigation.
“Employers and HR managers should review their policies to see if there are certain procedures they need to follow internally when dealing with sexual harassment allegations. If none are specified then would look to follow the regular grievance procedure, with additional features due to the nature of the grievance being handled. An investigation should always be carried out at this stage; failure to do this by an employer or HR manager could leave room for further unwarranted behaviour to take place. It is important to highlight that as a business you do not condone any form of unwarranted behaviour and carry out an investigation. You could see if separating the parties involved while the investigation takes place could make the working environment more comfortable while you look to investigate the complaint. Don't move the complainant unless they ask to be moved.
“In any situation like this, it is imperative to gather as much information and detail as possible. This includes getting dates, times, location, and any other information so that a full and fair investigation can take place. You will need to speak with the alleged harasser and any witnesses to the event to get a full picture of what has taken place and both sides of the story. From this, you can look at whether further action needs to be taken.
“If the allegation is upheld and deemed to have taken place, like in the Rubiales case, you will need to take disciplinary action against the harasser. From here, a full disciplinary procedure will need to take place. A sanction in the case of sexual harassment is not appropriate; instead, the full disciplinary procedure should be carried out.
Equality in the work environment
“The issue of equality within the workplace needs to be addressed. The Equality Act 2010 sets out nine protected characteristics that cannot be discriminated against. All employees must be treated fairly, for example, an employee's sex, age, or religious beliefs cannot be contributing factors to a decision made about them by an employer or HR manager.
“If businesses do not offer a fair investigation into an allegation for both the claimant and the alleged harasser, they could make both employees feel isolated and unsupported. This could also have reputational damage for a business if they appear not to be taking a claim seriously.
“As an employer, it is important to remember that if an employee believes that they have been neglected due to a protected characteristic being the reason why a proper investigation has not taken place, they can choose to raise a claim under discrimination laws. This would result in an employment tribunal, where a judge will assess the full claim. If the claim was found to be successful, you could end up paying unlimited compensation.”
The overall takeaway?
“Employees should always know they are able to speak up if they feel another colleague has acted inappropriately towards them. It is a HR manager and employer's responsibility to listen and make the correct decision based on the information they receive. A thorough investigation should always take place whenever allegations of sexual harassment are raised. When the complaint is being investigated it is up to the HR manager and employer to ensure that none of the nine protected characteristics of both the claimant and the alleged harasser have been neglected or used against them.”
*Palmer’s comments were made in relation to the recent scandal involving Spain’s FA president Luis Rubiales who kissed footballer Jenni Hermoso without her consent following the national team’s World Cup win. In this article, the comments have been edited for brevity.