Probation worker subjected to monkey chants wins payout

A probation officer who quit his job after being subjected to monkey chants and racial abuse has won a payout.

Lloyd Odain said he felt “ignored and isolated” because a complaint he made to his bosses alleging racial discrimination in the wake of incidents at HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) offices in Reading, Berkshire, in 2019 was “swept under the carpet”.

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Mr Odain was working for a contractor used by the service at the time and was “subjected to multiple incidents of racial discrimination and harassment by another contractor”.

These included the person making “making monkey chants” towards Mr Odain while he was talking to colleagues.

He reported the racist behaviour to probation service managers but, following a “flawed investigation”, the offender was allowed to return to work in the same office, leaving Mr Odain with “no choice but to leave the job he enjoyed”, the body that supported his legal case said.

More than three years since his initial complaint, Mr Odain has received compensation after the probation service settled the case in June before a final hearing, following preliminary proceedings held at Reading Employment Tribunal in October which, according to the EHRC, “found it may be liable for the racist behaviour of the contractor towards Mr Odain”.

But the settlement, the value of which has not been disclosed, does not include an admission of liability or a commitment from HMPPS to review its policy around how contractors are treated.

The EHRC said the monkey chants were not disputed by the probation service in the legal case, which instead focused on the liability of organisations to protect workers employed through third parties from harassment from other workers also employed through third parties.

British-born Mr Odain, who is of Caribbean heritage, told the PA news agency he was shocked when no-one challenged the incidents and felt like the matter was “swept under the carpet” when he lodged a grievance, with his concerns not taken seriously or dealt with promptly.

He said: “There was no acknowledgement whatsoever of a wrongdoing, I felt a lot of it was based on discrimination.

“For me it was not about retribution. I just felt let down, there’s no restoration.

“I just felt so disappointed (by the way it was handled). I felt I couldn’t tolerate it.”

Mr Odain, who is in his 50s and lives in London, said he had worked for the probation service in various roles over the last 10 years and even studied for a criminology degree to further specialise in his job.

He says he has not worked in this field since resigning from his post as a probation services officer (PSO) managing cases and supervising offenders in light of the ordeal.

Citing problems with culture in the probation service, he called for change and said policies that are already in place should be properly used to protect contract workers from racism in the workplace.

In a statement issued on his behalf by the EHRC, Mr Odain added: “I feel grossly let down by the prison and probation service. I worked in the Reading office for many years in different roles and took pride in my job helping people who were struggling to find a path in life.

“After being subjected to monkey chants and other racist behaviour, I followed the correct processes in making a complaint.

“I felt ignored and isolated as nothing appeared to be done.

“I then found out that the person who had behaved so appallingly was back working in the building.

“The thought of dealing with more racism, and having no support, left me with no option but to give up the job I enjoyed and was good at.

“I have spent more than three years fighting for change so that others shouldn’t face what I faced.

“I hope that, by exposing the horrendous treatment I suffered, HMPPS learn lessons from this case.

“I am grateful to the Equality and Human Rights Commission and to my solicitors for their support. I couldn’t have continued fighting for so long without their help.”

EHRC chairwoman Kishwer Falkner said: “Everyone going to work should expect to feel safe from harm and no-one should suffer the shocking racism experienced by Mr Odain.

“Employers, third-party contractors and workers all benefit if any awful incidents like this are addressed quickly and appropriately by management.

“It is disappointing that, in this case, HM Prison and Probation Service chose to defend themselves on the basis of legal technicalities rather than to commit positively to protect and support their own staff.

“Racism is never acceptable.”

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been contacted for comment.