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£22k payout for Highland ambulance driver after unfair dismissal

By Val Sweeney

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Former ambulance driver Mark Harvie has won his case for unfair dismissal.
Former ambulance driver Mark Harvie has won his case for unfair dismissal.

An ambulance driver who was sacked after acting in self defence when threatened by a drunk while carrying out his duty has won his case for unfair dismissal.

Mark Harvie, who has 29 years of unblemished service, found himself in a "terrifying" situation when he took a patient to the emergency department at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

Mr Harvie (61), of Beauly, who was subjected to repeated threats and verbal abuse from a drunk man who was not a patient, feared he was about to be head butted and struck him.

He was subsequently sacked by the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) for gross misconduct.

But an employment tribunal has found he was unfairly dismissed and the SAS was in breach of contract in dismissing Mr Harvie without notice. It also found the service had failed to make reasonable adjustment for his dyslexia.

He was awarded compensation of £22,468.

Former ambulance driver Mark Harvie was threatened by a man at Raigmore Hospital. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Former ambulance driver Mark Harvie was threatened by a man at Raigmore Hospital. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Mr Harvie, who now works in the motor trade, has spoken of his 18-month nightmare and the impact it has had on him and his family.

He felt the SAS had pre-judged him as being guilty although he was the one who had been threatened and had acted in self defence.

"It felt like a kick in the teeth," he said.

"I feel we were not allowed to protect ourselves especially as there is a sign in ambulances saying they don't tolerate abusive behaviour."

Mr Harvie, who is married and has a stepdaughter, was unable to discuss the case in the wake of his suspension and initially hid what happened from other family members and friends.

His 60th birthday party had to be cancelled and he missed social events with colleagues including retirement parties.

"I feel totally disgusted by it all," he said. "I did nothing wrong.

"I had a completely clean record for 29 years which was not taken into account."

Mr Harvie, who joined the Inverness station in September 2008, previously served in Glasgow for 16 years until 2005.

As an urgent tier ambulance care assistant in Inverness, his job involved driving ambulances in emergencies but he did not have clinical experience.

Mark Harvie had taken a patient to Raigmore Hospital where he was threatened by a man.
Mark Harvie had taken a patient to Raigmore Hospital where he was threatened by a man.

He was on duty with a paramedic and student paramedic on January 25, 2022 when they were called to a city centre bar to take a patient, who had fallen and cut his head, to Raigmore Hospital.

After arriving at the emergency department, Mr Harvie became aware of a man staggering about who appeared to be drunk and was partly blocking access.

Mr Harvie suggested he could get a seat but the man became abusive.

After he returned to the ambulance until his patient could be admitted, the driver's door was forced open by the man who shouted at him.

Mr Harvie feared he was going to be attacked and left the ambulance but the man continued to be abusive and appeared as if he was going to head butt him.

In response, Mr Harvie put up his left forearm to block him and struck him with a short punch on his chin with his right hand but with minimal force.

Security officers, who viewed CCTV footage, suggested Mr Harvie complain to the police to get the man charged.

But he declined after learning the man was the patient's uncle and they were in Inverness for a child's funeral.

Later in his shift, police officers told Mr Harvie that the man, who had a small nip on his lip, had made an allegation and they charged Mr Harvie with assault.

He was suspended on full pay pending an investigation and following a disciplinary hearing, he was dismissed on July 22, 2022 on the grounds of gross misconduct.

The panel felt he could have tried alternative action to de-escalate the situation and that he had brought the SAS into disrepute by assaulting a member of the public in a public location.

His dismissal came five days before criminal proceedings were due to be called in court and which were later withdrawn as Procurator Fiscal stated CCTV clearly showed Mr Harvie had acted in self-defence.

Although he appealed against dismissal, he did not continue after being referred to the hospital's emergency department with arm and chest pains brought on by stress.

But he took his case to an employment tribunal which found in his favour.

The judges felt Mr Harvie was placed in a very difficult position during the incident and that the SAS was also placed in a very difficult position thereafter.

Their findings stated: "What is apparent to us, however, is that the person who acted in the manner described in the incident, whose identity was not known to the parties, acted appallingly.

"He abused, threatened and terrified a member of the ambulance staff who was engaged in caring for his nephew."

They felt the SAS investigation report was not full and fair, or evenly-balanced and also noted that requests by Mr Harvie's solicitor to postpone the disciplinary hearing until after the trial as well as adjustments for his dyslexia and having a solicitor to attend the hearing to help him were all refused.

They also stated: "A criminal charge is an allegation. It may or may not be justified, and it is obvious that a person is innocent until guilt is established.

"At that point the matter had not even reached the stage of a decision by the Procurator Fiscal."

An application by both parties for reconsideration of the judgement was refused.

A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesperson commented: "We note the judgment of the employment tribunal."

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