Downer EDI manager 'disappointed' Alec Meikle didn't report bullying

THE senior manager at the Bathurst train manufacturing plant where teenage apprentice Alec Meikle was allegedly subjected to ruthless bullying has defended his supervision of the facility, expressing "disappointment" that the "immature" youth did not report the allegations as he was supposed to.

Greg Smith was the facility manager at Downer EDI's Bathurst operation when Alec began his apprenticeship in January 2008 as a 16-year-old.

The NSW Coroner's Court has heard that over the ensuing five months, Alec was set alight, burnt, threatened with rape and subjected to near-constant verbal abuse and put-downs.

In October of that year he committed suicide, aged 17.

The inquest has heard that, prior to Alec's death, apprentices were given little in the way of training in bullying and harassment when they began work at Downer.

But on Tuesday, Mr Smith defended the companies procedures, stating that Alec had been given the policies at his induction, but had not adhered to them.

"The way the company's zero harm policy is, every employee has an obligation to reinforce a safe workforce and apply company policies," Mr Smith said.

"If all employees, including Alec had applied the policy it would have been a totally different situation."

The inquest has previously heard that Alec's direct supervisor, Colin Wiggins, was among the worst bullies and that when the teenager raised the possibility of taking his complaint higher up the chain, Mr Wiggins told him his life would be made "a living hell".

It has also heard that Mr Smith was not known for his hands-on approach to workplace issues, particularly where complaints were concerned.

But the former manager told the inquest he "always had an open-door policy".

"I encouraged people to come to me," he said.

"And [Alec] never came forward and that to me is just a disappointment. It really upset and it still upsets me."

Mr Smith denied a suggestion by counsel assisting the inquest, Steven Kelly, that it would have been difficult for a 16-year-old apprentice to report his more senior colleagues without repercussions.

"No, if he'd come to me it wouldn't have been," he said.

"It wouldn't have been going down there and bashing people on the head, it would have been doing exactly what was needed to make it stop.

"I still believe that as a manager if he'd come to me we hopefully wouldn't be where we are today."

Under further cross-examination about the difficulty Alec faced in reporting the alleged bullying, Mr Smith said the youth had been "a little bit immature and little bit introverted in hindsight".

Counsel representing the Meikle family at the inquest, Bill Walsh, put it to Mr Smith that he had not described Alec in this way to WorkCover investigators, and was doing so now to portray the teenager as "a vulnerable person".

He denied this.

"The processes were there - they were in place, but this particular group of individuals chose not to come to me," he said.

The hearing is expected to conclude on Wednesday.

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