Conn v. Sunderland City Council
Court of Appeal
A judge had erred in holding that two incidents of threatening behaviour by one employee of a local authority against another constituted a course of conduct amounting to harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, since one of the incidents was not serious enough to amount to harassment.
The appellant local authority appealed against a decision that it was liable for damages for the harassment of the respondent employee (C) by his foreman (F). C had worked for the local authority as a paviour. He claimed he had been harassed and threatened by F on several occasions. He left work and issued proceedings claiming damages for a breach of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The judge found that on two occasions F had lost his temper, acted in an aggressive manner and threatened violence. On the first occasion F had demanded to know who had left work early and when C refused to tell him he shouted and threatened to smash a window. On the second occasion he had approached C to ask why he was not talking to him and had then threatened to hit him. The judge held there had been a course of conduct that F knew, or ought to have known, amounted to harassment. The local authority argued that neither of the two incidents was of sufficient gravity to constitute harassment.
For an offence of harassment to be made out there had to be a course of conduct, which, under s.7(3) of the Act, was made up of at least two incidents. A civil claim for harassment was only available for conduct that amounted to a breach of s.1, and, by virtue of s.2, constituted a criminal offence. The basis for deciding whether the conduct complained of fell within s.1 and s.3 was whether it was of such gravity as to justify the sanctions of the criminal law, Majrowski v Guy's and St Thomas's NHS Trust (2006) UKHL 34, (2007) 1 AC 224 applied. In the instant case the judge had been wrong to hold that the two incidents amounted to a course of conduct. Although the second incident crossed the line into oppressive and unacceptable conduct, the first did not: it was not conduct that was unlawful; there was no physical threat, merely a threat to property. While the incident was unpleasant it fell below the line of conduct that justified a criminal sanction and could not amount to harassment.
 IRLR 324 : Times, November 23, 2007