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BBC journalist who spoke to local reporter during tribunal case loses appeal

Sally ChidzoyA veteran BBC journalist’s appeal against an employment tribunal decision to strike out her claim after she spoke to a reporter has been dismissed.

Sally Chidzoy, left, home affairs correspondent for BBC Look East, had her claim of sex discrimination against the corporation thrown out halfway through the hearing in February 2017.

She had appealed against the decision, arguing that her conversation with Eastern Daily Press reporter Sarah Cliss during a break in the hearing was simply “pleasantries” and that the tribunal had failed to hear her version of events or properly consider how it would impact her evidence.

But Judge Jennifer Eady QC, sitting at the Employment Appeal Tribunal in central London, dismissed the appeal in a judgment handed down at a short hearing today.

She said the original employment tribunal, sitting in Cambridge, had reached “entirely permissible conclusions” and had been fair in its decision to strike out the case.

In Ms Chidzoy’s original claim, it was revealed that one BBC manager, in an e-mail about a story on the Dangerous Dogs Act which was not sent to her, referred to her as “Sally Shitsu”.

The correspondent, who had worked at the corporation for 29 years, complained the term was demeaning on the grounds of her gender and abusive by implying that she was a “shit journalist”.

But her claim against the BBC, which also alleged victimisation and harassment, was halted after the BBC’s barrister Sophie Belgrove and her solicitor spotted her talking to Miss Cliss during the short break in her cross-examination.

They reported hearing the word “Rottweiler”, which had been discussed in evidence on the morning of the hearing, at Cambridge Employment Tribunal on February 9 last year.

Ms Belgrove applied to get the case thrown out on the grounds that Ms Chidzoy’s claim had been conducted in a “scandalous or unreasonable” manner and it was no longer possible to have a fair trial.

Employment judge Michael Ord struck out the claim, saying that Ms Chidzoy had been repeatedly warned not to discuss the case during breaks and had lost the “necessary trust” of the tribunal.

He ruled it was not possible to have a fair trial, a retrial or hear a more limited case.

Today, Judge Eady agreed, saying: “Viewed against the clear instructions it had given to the claimant during the hearing, the ET (employment tribunal) was entitled to conclude that it could no longer conduct a fair trial of the claimant’s case; the loss of trust was irreparable.”

Judge Eady said this lack of trust was a “fundamental problem” that would have ruled out the argument of Ms Chidzoy’s legal team that a retrial could have been ordered.

She said: “Any new ET would be aware of the reasons why the first hearing had been aborted and there was nothing that could be done to avoid the question raised regarding the claimant’s credit continuing to be an issue in the proceedings.”

The judge concluded: “Having correctly identified and addressed each of the relevant questions in these circumstances, this ET reached entirely permissible conclusions that led it to determine that the claimant’s case must be struck out.

“It did so, having undertaken a fair procedure to establish the facts and from a perspective that meant it was best placed to form the assessment as to the significance of the claimant’s conduct for the fair disposal of her claim.

“Having reached the conclusion it did, as to the irretrievable loss of trust arising from the claimant’s conduct, the ET correctly held that there was no alternative to striking out the claim.

“Accordingly, the appeal against its judgment in that regard must be dismissed.”

Ms Chidzoy and her legal representatives did not attend the hearing.