A FEMALE paramedic says NSW Ambulance gave her access to a "panic room" and sent her to a violence in the workplace seminar so she could learn to protect herself after she reported her boss for repeated sexual harassment.
Newcastle District Court heard on Monday how NSW Ambulance "failed so miserably" to protect Annette Henry, a paramedic in training at the time, from sustained sexual harassment from former Merriwa station manager John Charles Doepel.
Dressed in her paramedic's uniform, an emotional Ms Henry read a powerful victim's impact statement detailing the toll of Doepel's offending over 18 months from January 2014, while the pair worked together in the Upper Hunter.
"I was given tactics to stay safe and you were given full access to tear that safety asunder," Ms Henry said.
"As I was being offered a panic room on station they were refusing to demand your station keys to be returned.
"For two years I lived under the threat of you, the anticipation of what you could do, of what you had access to do."
The court heard the "power imbalance" between the pair could not have been greater.
Doepel was a veteran intensive care paramedic and educator, while Ms Henry was a junior paramedic still in training.
It was three years after Ms Henry made her first complaint to NSW Ambulance about Doepel's repeated inappropriate advances that he resigned pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
He would follow her "around the station constantly for no reason" and regularly asked her or guessed what colour underwear she was wearing.
Doepel once brought a sign to work which read: "Liquor in the front, poker in the back". After showing it to Ms Henry, he asked if she "liked it like that".
Ms Henry explained how she attempted suicide and no longer recognised the woman she was before moving to Merriwa and working with Doepel.
"Every time I complained about you and the Ambulance Service of NSW ignored my pleas, every time that they spoke to me as seemingly shocked and compassionate managers and then did nothing to impede your access to me, they failed you as much as they failed me, and as much as they horrifyingly failed the community," Ms Henry said.
The court heard that despite several complaints, Doepel was allowed to continue to work as a paramedic for three years.
Ms Henry described how she "learnt to hide from the world" and ate junk food because it was the only food "accessible without human contact".
Her reputation "shredded", she said the silence NSW Ambulance bound her to allowed no other narrative to exist besides its own.
"We as paramedics should not be congratulated on our strength when that strength is used against us," she said.
"Held in esteem for how we take a hit or how many. It is a different pain on a different level when the hits come from within, when it is our own leaders, our own management."
Ms Henry detailed how she was targeted by management for making complaints and described NSW Ambulance as an "accomplice" to Doepel's offending.
"My boundaries emotional, physical and home were breached repeatedly as I was told that everything was being handled," she said.
"Overnight I was stripped of my independence, my support network, my social life. I was questioned, told that I could not speak to anyone including the police, my colleagues, or my peer support network under the threat that I would be the one to hinder their internal corrupt investigations."
Ms Henry said NSW Ambulance found it easier to blame the victim, than discipline Doepel.
Eventually he resigned, rather than his position being terminated.
She said she was determined to make sure no other women suffered a similar fate.
"The fear of you being left to continue in uniform with all the synonymous, inherent trust that is implied with your position was crushing for me," she said.
"You minimised me and my consent and you isolated me as only someone with your intentions would need to do."
Barrister Mark Preece, representing Doepel, 63, of New Lambton, said NSW Ambulance owed a duty of care to its employees and failed.
He said the service could have stopped Doepel's offending at anytime and didn't.
"That was a period of three years that the NSW Ambulance service effectively did nothing in this matter," he said.
"Had timely intervention occurred we would not be faced with the duration of the offending and there almost certainly would have been less harm done."
Mr Preece described NSW Ambulance as the "omnipotent player in this matter", but said it "failed so miserably to do anything over such a very protracted period of time".
"If there is an offending conduct happening, which in this case there clearly was, it's very often the case that unless, or until, that offending conduct is stopped and corrected that it is going to continue," he said.
"Many criminal offences are only stopped as a result of intervention and in the almost unique circumstances of this matter, where the ambulance service could, and most certainly should have, intervened in a very timely manner, we would not be faced with the duration of the conduct and the harm that has been occasioned."
Judge Tim Gartelmann, SC, said Doepel could have desisted from harassing Ms Henry at any time.
The court heard there was "conflicting sentiments" expressed by Doepel as to his "true level of insight" into his offending and the impact it had on Ms Henry.
Last month, Judge Gartelmann dismissed an all-grounds appeal by Doepel, finding there was no evidence that his post traumatic stress disorder, due to 30 years working as a first responder, was linked to his offending.
He said Doepel knew his conduct was likely to make Ms Henry "fear mental harm".
"The offence reflects a pattern of conduct over a period of about 18 months toward the victim comprising repeated unwanted sexual advances, innuendo and references," Judge Gartelmann said.
"The conduct concerned might effectively be summarised as sustained sexual harassment over an extended period."
Doepel pleaded guilty in August, on what was supposed to be the first day of a two-day trial to be heard in open court.
The witness list included a who's who of past and present NSW Ambulance Hunter management.
Doepel's legal team was attempting to have his conviction overturned in the District Court, citing good character, pointing to 11 character references.
Judge Gartelmann said it was clear Ms Henry suffered "significant" harm and it was ongoing.
He said Doepel commenced treatment by a psychologist after he was charged by police with intimidating Ms Henry, but there was no evidence that he recognised the harm caused to her.
Rather, Judge Gartelmann said Doepel appeared to be more concerned and impacted by people finding out about his offending due to the court proceedings.
"A sentence assessment report indicates the appellant lacks insight into the wrongfulness of his conduct," he said.
"A number of testimonials record the appellant is embarrassed and ashamed about what occurred, however the weight of this evidence is this reflects, his concern reflects, the knowledge of others regarding these proceedings."
Judge Gartelmann dismissed Doepel's appeal. He was convicted and sentenced to a 12-month conditional release order.
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