Belfast Telegraph

Workplace bullying led to my husband's death

Wife's accusation as inquest is told how worker killed himself at factory

By Jack Brennan

A father of three who was allegedly bullied by workmates hanged himself in the grounds of the factory where he was employed, an inquest has heard.

His widow told the hearing that despite her husband suffering depression, she believed the persecution he suffered contributed to him taking his own life.

Belfast Coroner's Court heard that Damien Mallon (33) was subjected to workplace bullying by some colleagues, which may have contributed to his death on July 7, 2011.

When Mr Mallon failed to sign on to his machine at the Montupet factory in Dunmurry, his supervisor Paul Walker, accompanied by a colleague, began looking for him shortly after 7pm.

After searching the toilets and shower area, they searched outside and found Mr Mallon beside a tree near the factory.

After phoning for an ambulance, they tried to resuscitate Mr Mallon without success. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Assistant state pathologist Dr Peter Ingram informed the court that Mr Mallon would have died within a few minutes of hanging himself, and confirmed that his autopsy concluded that death came about due to hanging.

Mr Walker said that he noticed nothing out of the ordinary that night in regard to Mr Mallon's mood. But he did say that he had been "out of sorts" in the weeks leading up to his tragic death.

In court Mr Mallon's widow Karen recalled the heartrending telephone conversation she had with her husband just hours before his death.

She said that Mr Mallon called himself a "coward" before she told him: "I can't help you unless you help yourself."

Mr Mallon's final words to his wife were: "Tomorrow will be a brighter day."

It was alleged by Mrs Mallon that her husband, who was described in court as an "engaging and pleasant person", was picked on by other employees which may have contributed to his death.

She told the court that she believed workplace bullying was a contributing factor to her husband's mental state.

She said that Mr Mallon was called names, sand was poured into his lunchbox and his moped had been damaged.

She said: "Damien was quiet, he didn't want to confront anybody."

Montupet's Human Resources manager Noel Dick conducted an internal investigation into the alleged bullying at the factory.

The investigation, which included interviews with other Montupet employees, yielded little evidence of bullying, other than a prank that Mr Mallon and other staff were subjected to.

It's understood a large metal bin would be dropped from a forklift truck near to where a person was standing to startle them.

Mr Dick spoke to seven employees about the alleged bullying.

He told the court that he spoke both to friends of Mr Mallon and also workers who were known not to get on with Damien.

Five confirmed that bin-banging went on, but he did not find sufficient evidence to proceed with disciplinary measures.

But he said that after Mr Mallon's death an effort was made to implement the firm's Dignity At Work scheme more rigorously.

Mr Dick said that in an average year as many as seven disciplinary investigations would be conducted by the company. He recalled that at least one of these led to an employee being sacked.

He said: "People quite often play pranks on each other. People are people and it's very hard to enforce where the line is."

But in court Mrs Mallon said she believed that the investigation did not go far enough.

She said: "I don't think the investigation into the bullying was done properly."

The court heard how Mr Mallon had been to see his GP Dr Peter McGowan numerous times in the years prior to his death, to help battle his depression and anxiety.

Dr McGowan said that as far back as January 2007 Mr Mallon was suffering from stress and low mood.

He added that work concerns were never voiced to him, but he did tell the inquest that he felt Mr Mallon was not divulging every aspect of his life that was causing him trouble.

The doctor said when he saw Mr Mallon in March 2011 he had no inkling of self-harm. It was Mr Mallon's second stint working at the French-owned firm which manufactures components for the auto industry.

Coroner Jim Kitson ruled that Mr Mallon took his own life with the intention of doing so.

He added that the events which occurred at Mr Mallon's workplace were regrettable, and did not help his recovery from depression. He concluded that there was a fine line between horseplay and bullying, and employers need to be careful.

On night Damien died he was for leaving his job, says widow

Damien Mallon was a devoted husband and loving father and was described as a quiet man who had been battling depression and anxiety problems for a number of years.

The father of three was on strong anti-depressants when he died, but didn't always take his medication.

Despite this, Mr Mallon's widow Karen described her late husband as a "happy-go-lucky man, who worked hard for his family".

It's for this reason she believes that alleged bullying at his workplace in some way contributed to her husband's depression and death.

She said that her husband "had good days and bad days but nothing to indicate suicide.

"On a good day he was fine, he was a good family man, always playing with the kids. But on a bad day he would shut down and was very closed off."

Mrs Mallon admitted her husband hated his job, but carried on working at the Montupet factory to provide for his wife and three children, two of whom have learning difficulties.

Despite the coroner stopping short of blaming bullying for his death, Mrs Mallon is adamant that her husband was subjected to mistreatment which ranged from name calling to criminal damage.

She claimed her husband's shoes were taken, sand was put into his lunchbox, his sandwiches were thrown into the bin and his moped was damaged.

Mrs Mallon said that her late husband was not the kind of person who would approach someone who was bullying him.

"Damien was quiet, he didn't want to confront anyone," she said.

At his inquest, Mr Mallon's supervisor, Paul Walker, said that the damage to Mr Mallon's moped could have been committed by vandals not connected to the Montupet workforce, as vehicles had been damaged in the past at the factory grounds. He added that he was unaware of any bullying that was going on.

However, Mrs Mallon said she believed the sand and grease used to damage the machine came from the shop-floor of the factory.

She told the court her husband was getting more and more irritable and struggled to sleep at night in the weeks leading up to his death. He worked nightshifts at the factory and would often sleep during his breaks. However, Mr Walker said this was not unusual for employees who worked night shifts.

Mr Mallon was prescribed anti-depressants as far back as 2007 after suffering from stress and low mood but took them irregularly because he didn't want them to make him drowsy at work.

In discussions with his doctor five months before his death, Mr Mallon did not voice any thoughts of self-harming.

Two months prior to his death, Mr Mallon took his family on holiday where he seemed to get back to his normal self, playing in the swimming pool with his children and in much better spirits, according to his wife.

However, while on holiday, Mr Mallon told his brother-in-law that he was dreading going back to work.

"The night he died he was for leaving his job," she said.

Following Mr Mallon's death, Montupet conducted an internal investigation into the bullying after his widow contacted the company.

"When I found out he had died, I was obviously shocked, heartbroken and angry," said Mrs Mallon.

The investigation which was conducted by the company's human resources manager found that five of the seven employees interviewed by Mr Noel Dick said they knew Mr Mallon was subject to what they described as a form of horseplay.

One of the seven believed that Mr Mallon was an "easy target", according to the investigation conducted by Montupet.

After the inquest, Mrs Mallon expressed her relief that the inquest into her husband's death was over. "It's all in the past now and I just want to get on with my life," she said.

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