In March 2008, teenager Alec Meikle began a train-building apprenticeship he believed would ”start his journey through life”.
But within three months, the 16-year-old had allegedly been subjected to such relentless, violent bullying by his new supervisor and workmates that the once ”happy, bubbly” youth had become ”a sad, round-shouldered boy”.
By October of that year, Alec had hanged himself with yellow rope from a staircase bannister.
The role the alleged bullying played in his death is a central focus of a coronial inquest taking place at Glebe Coroner’s Court this week.
The opening day of the inquest on Monday heard that, having left school at 16, Alec began an apprenticeship at the Bathurst premises of engineering company Downer EDI, an operation which builds an maintains trains for RailCorp.
The inquest heard that within three days of beginning his apprenticeship, Alec was regularly being called a ”f—‘n useless c–t”.
Over the ensuing weeks the teenager was allegedly burnt with a welding torch, sprayed with adhesive and set on fire.
Several of his colleagues also allegedly threatened to anally rape him with a steel dildo.
Accompanying these incidents, the inquest heard, was near constant verbal abuse.
”He said the first day was fantastic, second day fantastic and then the abuse started,” Alec’s father, Richard Meikle told the inquest.
”And then it was ‘you useless f—n c–t, you useless c–t’. That was thrown at him every day.”
Mr Meikle said Alec told him the main perpetrator was his direct supervisor along with another colleague.
”He said because his supervisor was leading it, he didn’t have anyone standing up for him, anyone to talk to about it,” Mr Meikle said.
Alec’s parents began to notice he was becoming agitated and withdrawn. They said, initially, he refused to say what was going on but eventually opened up. ”He said, ‘dad, how many times would you want to hear the words you useless f—‘n c–t day after day after day?”’ Mr Meikle said. ”He became a sad, round-shouldered boy.”
The bullying allegedly continued for three months, until May 2008 when Alec left the company.
Soon after, the teenager was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression, and later, an adjustment disorder.
He was admitted to the mental health wing of Bathurst Hospital for short period and seemed to improve but, not long after being released, he attempted suicide in the family’s downstairs gym room.
”I’m a failure, I can’t even kill myself,” Alec reportedly told his parents after the suicide attempt.
Alec’s parents arranged for him to return to New Zealand – where the family had migrated from in 2002 – to live with his aunt and uncle and have further treatment.
But on the night of October 30, 2008 Alec’s aunt and cousin arrived home to find he had taken his life.
The inquest heard an internal investigation by Downer EDI found Alec had been subject to little or no supervision, instruction or training, and was given work above his level.
It also found he had been subjected to sarcasm, verbal abuse and put downs as well as the bullying incidents he reported.
A subsequent WorkCover investigation found that while the company had an anti-bullying policy, the alleged bullying behaviour had been allowed to ”manifest” during Alec’s apprenticeship.
The inquest continues.
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