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Dell reports Leadmill for harassment after £370k judgment

Rupert Dell, the former general manager of the Leadmill, has been ordered to pay more than £370,000 in damages and costs to the Sheffield venue for breach of contract.

In a judgment dated 30 January, Sheffield county court judge Sarah Richardson found in favour of the Leadmill Ltd, which had accused Dell of a number of “wholly inappropriate and unlawful” actions, including falsifying trading figures, harassing and bullying staff and diverting business to competitor venues following his dismissal.

According to court documents obtained by IQ, the bulk of the Leadmill’s complaint centres on allegations that Dell engaged in an inappropriately intimate relationship with a female employee, named only as ‘AB’.

“Between 6 January 2014 and 5 February 2014, [Dell] managed AB, interacted with her and demonstrated a level of intimacy with her that was inappropriate for the general manager of the claimant [the Leadmill] to a subordinate employee – particularly a young subordinate that the defendant [Dell] knew was vulnerable – and was an abuse of the defendant’s position of power and influence as general manager,” reads the court order.

AB, with whom Dell had an “existing flirtatious online relationship”, was given the newly created role of box office manager, it continues, despite the Leadmill having “no requirement for a full- or part-time employee” in that role. “The engagement of AB provided no, or no material, benefit to the claimant,” according to Richardson’s judgment.

This resulted in a “costly and protracted investigation” into allegations of sexual harassment by AB, during which Dell reportedly gave “contradictory and evasive answers” to Phil Mills, director of the 900-capacity venue.

“It has been a long and expensive struggle but we are determined to defend and protect both our staff’s and the Leadmill’s reputations”

Dell – formerly also a concert promoter with Goldenvoice UK, and later head of venue programming for DHP Family – was additionally found to have initiated and encouraged a culture of “inappropriate banter” at the venue from early 2011 to February 2014, including his making jokes about employees’ sexuality and weight.

The Leadmill’s complaint also accuses Dell of falsifying figures – on one occasion giving the instruction to move £500 from the bar take at a Liam Fray show “to make it look as if the venue had been paid for by [promoter] SJM Concerts/Mr Fray in the trading figures to be passed to Mr Mills” – and, following his dismissal in early 2014, making at least three bookings for rival venue the Plug (1,200-cap.), “in breach of post-termination restrictions”.

Dell denies the allegations and accuses Mills of attempting to destroy his reputation “and all I have achieved and worked for over 25 years”.

In a statement provided to IQ, Dell says he was unable to contest the case in court owing to lack of funds – the judgment notably includes no evidence contrary to the Leadmill’s claims, with a passing mention of alleged anti-Semitic abuse by Leadmill employees against Dell, a Jew, dismissed as “vexatious” and in “bad faith” – and reveals he has reported Mills and the venue to police for harassment and malicious communication.

“My wife, children and I have suffered immeasurably from the civil action taken by Phil Mills (the company director) and the Leadmill for the past three years,” it reads. “I find it immensely unprofessional to issue needless communications which I believe are clearly intended to destroy my reputation and prevent me from following a career in the industry I love and have a passion for.

“This was a civil action in a civil court brought by Phil Mills and the Leadmill. Attempts were made to bring the matter to a conclusion, but the Leadmill continued to pursue the matter in the full knowledge that they had little prospect of recovering the hundreds of thousands of pounds that they had spent on pursuing the civil case against me. Due to lack of funds I was unable to contest the case in court and therefore I believe my evidence was not heard by the judge.

“All they wanted to achieve was the destruction of my character and all I have achieved and worked for over 25 years”

“You have to ask: Why, then, did they continue? In my opinion, all they wanted to achieve was the destruction of my character and all I have achieved and worked for over 25 years.

“From the outset of this matter, I raised many counter issues in my defence such as what, in my opinion, are anti-Semitic comments that were made against me – a committed and practising member of the Jewish community – during my employment, by an employee of the Leadmill on social media and on the work email. I presented evidence of these comments and the grievance was branded as being vexatious by Phil Mills.

“It now appears that an abusive Gmail account has been set up, designed to invite harassment and abuse of my family and me, despite the legal process having ended some months ago. I believe that this is vindictive and unnecessary. I am taking legal advice on this and have raised it with the police.”

“This has been a four-year case which has hung heavily over our staff,” says the Leadmill’s current GM, Ian Lawlor, quoted in the contested press release from the venue. “It has been a long and expensive struggle but we are determined to defend and protect both our staff’s and the Leadmill’s reputations. The findings of Her Honour Judge Richardson are now a matter of public record, for which we thank her.

“We now return to our main focus. The venue is unique in this country, having been independently run for its near 40-year existence. We are concentrating on doing what we do best: creating exciting and memorable events for everyone, in a welcoming and safe environment.”

Dell’s statement concludes: “I appreciate all the messages of support and trust I have received over the past weeks. I did not do what is claimed in the statement and I now want to move on and rebuild my life.”


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