Since my last blog on this subject I’ve maintained a silence on the matter, just as Joanne herself did. Until Mike Kelly, the Chair of the East Lancs Railway published an ‘open letter’ to volunteers, clearly knowing such a letter would travel much further and much wider – as it did with copies of it appearing on various rail forums. Despite this, I maintained my silence until Joanne chose to respond several days later – as the first comments should be hers. So, to start with, here’s a copy of Kelly’s ‘open letter’ and Joanne’s response.

Kelly’s ‘open letter’;

11 May 2023
To staff and volunteers

The ELR have recently concluded an appeals process with Joanne Crompton. As part of this, Joanne had requested that her volunteer status be reinstated. Joanne had her volunteer status revoked because of the content of her social media posts and interactions during the investigation into her grievances and not the grievances she raised – these are unrelated events.

While Joanne may only have occasionally mentioned East Lancashire Railway directly on social media, during the appeal process all of her posts and social media interactions were reviewed in the context of what was taking place at that time and the influence and reach Joanne has on social media. Additional consideration was given to the posts Joanne made and engaged with after the investigation had concluded and in the lead up to the appeal. The interviews criticising the ELR that she gave to the national and heritage railway press were also taken into consideration.

The investigating officer concluded that her posts and social media engagements repeatedly brought the railway into disrepute, and significantly breached the ELR’s social media policy.

All of our volunteers have the right to enjoy a safe, welcoming and rewarding experience when working at the railway. This very public situation has led to a complete breakdown in the working relationship between Joanne, some of her fellow volunteers, and the management of the railway. As a result, Joanne’s volunteer status will not be returned.

Also, as part of the appeal, the investigating officer upheld the sexual harassment complaint and appropriate procedures will now follow and action taken in that regard.

Sexual harassment at East Lancashire Railway, or indeed in any environment, is unacceptable and we understand the emotional toll this takes on all individuals involved.

We strive to learn from all such experiences and will commission a full review, led by an independent HR expert, into our working environments, teams and culture. This is to ensure our staff and volunteers have the confidence and trust in our many safeguarding policies and procedures and that they are fit for purpose. If required, we will look at additional training and development as we go forward to meet the high standards that we set for ourselves.

The appeals process prevented us from saying very much and I apologise to those people who contacted me, but it was important that our grievance procedures were allowed to reach a conclusion.

Joanne made a positive contribution to the ELR in her time with us and we wish her well in all her future endeavours.

Keep the Faith.

Here’s Joanne’s response, which can be found on her Facebook page, and Twitter;

“17 May 2023

On 11th May 2023, the Chair of the East Lancashire Railway (“ELR”), Mr. Mike Kelly, chose to make a public statement by way of an open letter to all staff and volunteers of the ELR in respect of me that included details of my ELR grievance complaint and subsequent appeal. This is despite the ELR’s own Grievance Policy making it clear that ‘Grievances will be handled with as high a degree of confidentiality as is practicable’.

Prior to this, at no point had Mr. Kelly or anyone connected with the management of the ELR discussed with me whether it was appropriate to publish such an open letter in contravention with their Grievance Policy nor what the likely impact of publishing this would have on me personally. As a result, I feel it necessary to make a statement setting out what has actually happened and what I believe must happen next.

Over the past few months, I have been involved in a grievance process with the ELR, initiated by me, regarding two separate issues – first, my mistreatment with respect to various matters relating to my driver training and second, the sexual harassment I had been subjected to over a sustained period of time. With regards to driver training, the ELR’s own review upheld my grievance and with regards to sexual harassment, my grievance was upheld on appeal. The fact that the original investigation by the ELR had concluded that the grievance with regards to sexual harassment was inconclusive had significantly exacerbated the emotional toil this was all taking on me, so for the appeal to subsequently find in my favour was an enormous relief.

On 4th April 2023, immediately following a meeting called by the ELR to explain the outcome of my original grievances (and prior to my subsequent appeal), the ELR General Manager told me that my volunteer status was being revoked due to my activity on social media. It was claimed this had brought the ELR into disrepute. No notice was given of this decision and no opportunity was afforded me to consider the allegations in advance of the decision to revoke my volunteer status.

It is true that I have been an active and vocal contributor to various social media platforms over the years. At all times I have sought to be enthusiastic and positive, not just with respect to the ELR specifically, but also with the heritage railway movement more generally. I am passionate about volunteering, especially with regards to encouraging more women to get involved in what is a wonderfully uplifting and rewarding activity. I reject categorically that at any time have I deliberately sought to bring the ELR into disrepute and believe that the revoking of my volunteer status was entirely unjust, ill-considered, and wholly disproportionate.

It is the ELR’s own actions that have risked damaging my reputation. Elements of the process of grievance, the initial findings and subsequent appeal have been defective, with the ELR’s own investigating officer using social media themselves to express personal opinions and disclose matters concerning the investigation that I believe should have remained confidential whilst a grievance and subsequent appeal process was still underway.

The actual events underpinning my experience of sexual harassment are very upsetting, to the extent that I find it difficult to talk about them even now. It is also well known that I am receiving treatment for a rare and particularly nasty form of cancer but despite that I have never sought to use that fact to leverage my position at any time with the ELR. Even so, the stress that recent events have brought about on my health, as well as on my wonderfully loving and supportive family has, at times, been almost intolerable.

It was therefore especially upsetting when reading Mr. Kelly’s statement to note that four full paragraphs are dedicated to first attempting to explain the reasons behind my volunteer status being revoked before even mentioning the issue of sexual harassment. Readers will form their own view as to the sense of priorities that the ELR place on protecting their own reputation compared to supporting members of their own staff and volunteer groups.

In particular, the open letter says that “All of our volunteers have a right to enjoy a safe, welcoming and rewarding experience” followed immediately with “This very public situation has led to a complete breakdown in the working relationship between Joanne, some of her fellow volunteers and the management of the railway”. This juxtaposition misleads the reader into believing that my social media posts, possibly the grievances themselves, and certainly my general behaviour, have led to volunteers feeling unsafe and unwelcome. Such a connection is deeply misleading and entirely unsupported by any reasonable and fair consideration of the facts.

Mr. Kelly’s open letter ends by exhorting all staff and volunteers to ‘Keep the Faith’. The inference of this is that it is the ELR who has been the victim here, bravely managing to see off an attempt by a former volunteer to cause it reputational harm.

I see recent events in a rather different light. Over the last 18 months, I have been subjected to frequent bullying, casual (and not so casual) misogyny, gaslighting and sexual harassment that left me sufficiently scared at times to feel unable to travel to and from the railway unaccompanied. I am grateful to the friends I have who are still connected with the ELR and who have told me privately how upset they were with those three, short words: ‘Keep the faith’.

The ELR has so many dedicated staff and volunteers who do a truly wonderful job. They do what they do with passion and enthusiasm not just for their own railway but for the heritage railway movement at large. Yet they are still entitled to be respected and protected by those in authority. They should expect their concerns to be taken seriously when they are raised, as well as acted upon, urgently, when the possibility of wrongdoing comes to light.

My concern now, as it has been for some time, is to bring about real and positive change for the benefit of all. I am therefore calling upon the Board of the ELR to announce the following 4 – point plan as soon as possible:

1. To commission an urgent and completely independent review into the culture & working practices at the ELR (as well as their HR Policies and Procedures) including in particular how arrangements for all potentially vulnerable groups, not just women, are considered and put in place;

2. To then publish the terms of reference of the review;

3. To confirm the review will be carried out by someone with experience of carrying out similar reviews elsewhere; and

4. To confirm that the outcome of the review will be published when complete and that any recommendations made will be implemented in full and without amendment.

Only then can everyone be certain that the Board of the ELR take their duties and responsibilities to their staff and volunteers seriously, and that what happened to me does not happen again.”

Statement from Joanne Crompton re East Lancashire Railway.

I’ll let Jo’s words speak for her but offer a few observations of my own. The ELR management have been appalling in the way they’ve dealt with this issue. Their tactic seems to have been to ignore it and hope it would go away – despite the car-crash of Kelly’s initial (unbelievable) statements and excuses for his blocking of people on social media. His excuse has never stood up to scrutiny but he’s never apologised, nor has he ever dealt to this day with the fact his actions have brought the ELR into far more disrepute than a volunteer quite rightly complaining about sexual harassment. Jo’s point about the fact most of Kelly’s letter is an apologia for the way they’ve ignored their own procedures whilst only at the end admitting her complaint was upheld (but still ‘banning’ her) is well made. Talk about getting things arse about face! Meanwhile, what’s happened to the person who was doing the sexual harassing? What sanctions have they faced? No-one knows…

In the time it’s taken Kelly to come up with this latest excuse the reputation of the ELR has taken a hammering – both on rail forums, social media and in the mainstream press where the reactions have been overwhelming negative to the ELR. It’s got so bad the ELR has had to lock comments on some of its social media posts as the responses have been so negative. I feel for the ELR volunteers caught up in this as it seems clear the ELR management see them as pawns to be exploited.

As for the ‘independence’ of the policy review – how transparent is this going to be? As I understand matters the last ‘independent’ review into Jo’s disciplinary was conducted by someone employed by the ELR.

When I read Kelly’s closing ‘keep the faith’ comment I couldn’t quite believe he’d say something so crass, but then I remembered his excuses for his mass-blocking of people on social media! Sadly, I can’t see anything likely to change at the ELR under its present management. There seems to be an ingrained culture here which is going to be hard to shift unless people – volunteers, visitors and loco owning groups – start voting with their feet.

Last night Joanne was at the important ‘Women in Rail‘ awards in Derby where she was one of eight people out of 100 who were shortlisted for this prestigious awards. Jo didn’t win, but to get to the final 8 is an accolade in itself and a reflection of how she’s seen in both the preservation movement and also the wider rail industry. Somehow I can’t see the ELR being up for any awards soon – unless it’s the raspberry’s…

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