Anyone who has been bullied at work must be sickened by the public support for Jeremy Clarkson. Even in sacking him for the physical assault on Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon, BBC director general Tony Hall seemed almost apologetic, taking the opportunity to thank Clarkson for his work on Top Gear and wishing him the best for the future.
But if you've experienced bullying first hand then you know what a destructive force the Clarksons of the world are. Your workplace becomes a place of dread and fear. The stress becomes not just a part of your daily life, but a part of who you are as a person. It changes you.
My own experience of being bullied began when I took a job with a company that had just promoted a long-standing employee in to a management position. He had no experience of managing people, he received no training, and he openly said that he didn't want the job. He was visibly stressed almost constantly, and resented that he was still expected to work and not just manage other people's work.
Very early in the job I was shouted at in the middle of a busy office for completing a task that should have been cancelled. It was a foul-mouthed and very personal tirade of abuse, accusing me of being untrustworthy, and came totally out of the blue. Then my manager realised that he had forgotten to mark the task as cancelled, and quietly in a private room away from other staff, he apologised and promised never to speak to me like that in front of people again.
The details of bullying incidents are generally repetitive and boring, so suffice to say, this was just the beginning of what became regular abuse: Shouted at in the middle of the office for things I had allegedly done wrong, and then apologised to in private.
I put up with the abuse for way too long. I'd spoken to my union rep and kept a bullying diary as advised, but I never started a grievance procedure. Colleagues said I should, and one day I ended up talking to the company secretary about it, but I backed off, determined to resolve the issue myself. Ultimately, I told myself, this is a case of two grown men having a clash of personalities, and I should be able to resolve it. But of course I couldn't.
After about a year I had to take time off work for an unconnected health reason, which seemed to go on a lot longer than one might expect. After a week back at work, I was off again with flu, which seemed to go on forever. My doctor was puzzled and I was sent to the hospital for tests. But in conversation with my doctor one time I mentioned about how it was actually quite nice to be off work because it was an escape from the bullying, and it was as if I'd said the magic word. My doctor was certain that the stress of being bullied was the root cause of my poor health. It explained everything. It turns out that a year of sleepless nights and constant anxiety isn't very good for you.
The BBC has done the right thing in sacking Clarkson. When I finally had to take formal action against my manager, the company was combative, and handled it on the basis that I was making it all up. I opted for the least "official" form of grievance, third-party arbitration, and my manager held his hands up to what he'd been doing and promised to change. Whether he could or not, I don't know, as I've not been well enough to return to work yet.
I've watched every episode of Top Gear since Clarkson joined the programme. I like him as a presenter. But I see him now for what he really is: A person who knows how to present himself to the people who control his career -- his bosses and the viewers -- but feels he can abuse the people below him. No doubt he will now be snapped up by another TV channel, or Netflix, and he'll continue to make great programmes that entertain millions. But we know now what he's like behind the scenes, and even a bully that knows he's a bully will still be a bully.