Published at 14:38 on Saturday 20th May 2023
Tags: East Lancashire Railway, Joanne Crompton, Complaint, Appeal, Volunteer.

Joanne Crompton is pictured at Bury, prior to being dismissed as volunteer. Eddie Bobowski

As readers of RH will recall, popular female trainee steam driver Joanne Crompton was dismissed as a volunteer at the East Lancashire Railway (ELR) last month, following an investigation into her complaints of sexual discrimination and sexual harassment by a member of the Railway’s steam department.

At the time, her complaint of discrimination was upheld but the investigation into the sexual harassment she reported was found to be "inconclusive". She was then dismissed as a volunteer for alleged breaches of the Railway’s social media policy and for being a "drain on resources" due to her complaints.

Originally informed that she could not appeal the decision, that outcome was later changed and Mrs. Crompton lodged an appeal regarding the findings of her sexual harassment complaint, and the ELR has now concluded its investigations. ELR Chairman, Mike Kelly, told Railway Herald: “Following an appeal made by Joanne Crompton, the investigating officer has upheld the sexual harassment complaint. Appropriate procedures will now follow and action taken in this regard. Sexual harassment at the 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 that 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.”

However, despite these findings, Mrs Crompton is not being allowed to return to the Railway as a volunteer. Mr Kelly stated: “As part of the appeal, Joanne also requested that her volunteer status be reinstated. Joanne had her volunteer status revoked because of the content of her social media posts during the investigation and not because of the grievances she raised - these were unrelated events. The investigating officer concluded that her posts 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. Joanne made a positive contribution to the ELR in her time with us and we wish her well in all her future endeavours.”

The Railway Herald team has itself reviewed Mrs Crompton’s public social media posts as part of our research for this and a previous story, and, prior to the statement made following her dismissal as a volunteer, it appears the social media posts made by Mrs Crompton, did not mention the ELR, other than in a positive way. She mentioned her disappointment about being excluded from the International Women’s Day 2023 event at the Railway, but only as a direct reply to a question from a third party, and did not appear to attack or defame the Railway in any way. When asked about this, Mr Kelly responded: "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.”

However, with only the Railway’s management being aware of “what was taking place at that time”, especially as nothing whatsoever to do with the investigations was posted publicly by either side prior to her dismissal, Railway Herald was unable to identify if any of Mrs Crompton’s previous less positive Facebook posts from the beginning of this year were even related to her volunteering duties, let alone the ELR itself. Mr Kelly declined to elaborate further on the evidence that was considered in reaching the decision, but added: “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."

Mrs Crompton provided a statement to Railway Herald in response to the above comments, in which she commented that the "sexual discrimination and harassment" complaints were reported to the ELR’s General Manager on 11th January, but that there was no outcome until a meeting on 4th April. Mrs Crompton added: “I was then asked to remain in the meeting room for a subsequent discussion with the General Manager and Deputy General Manager. It was in this meeting that I was told that my status as a volunteer was being revoked, on the grounds of breaching the Railway’s social media policy and being a “drain on resources” due to my complaints. I was told that there would be no appeal allowed against this decision and that it was final. I therefore put out a statement on social media, briefly outlining the problems that I had experienced, as I felt that I had explored every avenue available to me at the ELR and that procedures that were in place for my protection were not being followed. It was only due to pressure from the public outcry on social media that the Railway decided to allow me to appeal against this decision also. As I was officially no longer a volunteer on the Railway at the time I made my statement on social media and had been denied an appeal into this decision, I feel that it is unfair that my statement was taken as a breach of the Railway’s social media policy - with my status as a volunteer removed, the rules in the Railway’s Volunteer Handbook no longer applied. Furthermore, I can confirm that, prior to my appeal hearing on 20th April, and indeed prior to the receipt of the appeal decision by e-mail on 5th May, I had not given an interview to any members of the press whatsoever. Although many articles have appeared, all the information contained within them came from my pre-prepared statement that was posted on social media.”

When questioned further in light of Mrs Crompton's response and the stated lack of media interviews, the East Lancashire Railway declined to comment further.

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