Former Leadmill manager denies abusing power to groom young employee, despite £350,000 court ruling

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A former manager of The Leadmill abused his power to 'groom' a young, vulnerable woman working for the iconic Sheffield music venue, a court has ruled.

Rupert Dell was ordered to pay more than £350,000 after the owners of the renowned 900-capacity city centre venue won a civil case at Sheffield County Court.

The Leadmill

The Leadmill

But he denies the court's findings, claiming the case was brought as part of a 'vendetta' against him and he could not afford to contest the claim.

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In a ruling made on January 30 this year, a copy of which has just been obtained by The Star, Her Honour Judge Richard found that Mr Dell had breached his contract on numerous counts.

He created the role of box office manager and recruited a young woman with whom he had been flirting online, the judge ruled, 'engineering' her appointment to advance his personal relationship with her.

Former Leadmill manager Rupert Dell

Former Leadmill manager Rupert Dell

Between January and February of 2014, he demonstrated an 'inappropriate' level of intimacy with her, the ruling continues, on one occasion kissing her in his car in a manner which left her with sore lips and a red mark on her neck.

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At an awards ceremony that February, he suggested to the woman that he wished to attend her hotel room, the judge found, but she asked him not to and ended up staying with a relative that night because she was worried he would try to enter her room against her wishes.

He then persisted in trying to contact the woman, referred to in the court papers as AB, via Facebook after she told him she had 'had enough' and asked to be left alone.

A judge ruled Mr Dell had breached his contract

A judge ruled Mr Dell had breached his contract

"The defendant cynically and systematically abused his position of authority and power within The Leadmill and within the music industry for the purposes of grooming, controlling and creating a position of power over AB (a young, vulnerable woman) in order to establish and continue a personal relationship with her," the written judgment states.

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The ruling goes on to state how Mr Dell 'facilitated a culture of inappropriate banter' among staff between 2011 and 2014, repeatedly calling female colleagues 'stupid lesbians' and making comments about 'cottaging' with a male colleague whom he referred to as 'gay'.

In February 2014, Mr Dell raised a grievance alleging that a colleague's comments on social media referring to his Jewish origins amounted to harassment and bullying, but the court found this complaint had been made 'vexatiously and in bad faith'.

After leaving The Leadmill, the judgment states, he breached his post-termination agreement by using relationships developed while working for the club to book acts including The Pigeon Detectives to play at competing venues.

Mr Dell, who went on to work as head of venue programming and marketing for the music promoter DHP Family, was ordered to pay The Leadmill £134,000 in damages, plus costs of £222,000. That is on top of costs of £17,000 he was told to pay in April 2016.

Mr Dell said: "My family and I have suffered immeasurably from the civil action taken by Phil Mills, the company director, and The Leadmill for the past three years.

"This was a civil action in a civil court brought by Phil Mills and The Leadmill. The Leadmill continued to pursue the matter in the full knowledge it had little prospect of recovering the hundreds of thousands of pounds it had spent pursuing the 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 and this is an uncontested and default judgement.

"You have to ask why then did they continue? In my opinion I believe this is a personal vendetta against me by the Leadmill and an attempt to destroy my reputation.

“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."

He added: "I entirely refute all the allegations that have been made against me and I did not do what is claimed. I appreciate all the comments of support from family and friends that I have received and I now want to move on and rebuild my life."

A spokeswoman for the Leadmill said: "Throughout this four-year-long battle for justice our primary concern has always been the wellbeing and safety of those directly impacted by Dell’s abuse of his position."

She added: "It has been a long, expensive and distressing struggle, but we have never faltered in our determination to defend and protect our staff and the reputation of The Leadmill.

"Whilst we are relieved that the findings of Her Honour Judge Richardson are now a matter of public record for anyone to see, we remain extremely saddened that at no point has Mr Dell apologised for the emotional or financial consequences of his actions."

She added that Mr Dell had yet to make any arrangements to pay the damages and costs ordered by the court.