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Judge rules former town clerk was unfairly sacked

Malvern Editorial 22nd Oct, 2014 Updated: 20th Oct, 2016

THE FORMER town clerk of Malvern Town Council was unfairly sacked, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Following a four-day hearing in Birmingham last week Judge Mary Cocks upheld Richard Chapman’s claim of unfair dismissal and awarded him an undisclosed sum in compensation.

The judge concluded the council had ‘fundamentally failed’ to follow ACAS guidelines whilst bringing allegations of bullying and harassment against the former clerk, which ultimately led to his dismissal in April this year.

However the tribunal found Mr Chapman, who earned a salary of £42,000-a-year, was still guilty of serious misconduct on October 2, 2013, when he shouted at two staff members for not answering the phones.

A formal complaint was made to Mayor Julian Roskams following the incident, which led to the immediate suspension of the clerk and an independent investigator, Angela Roberts, being brought in.

But Judge Cocks said the probe ‘span out of control’ stating Ms Roberts went beyond her remit and every issue between staff and Mr Chapman was ‘dragged up’.

The result was a ‘woefully inadequate’ report which even confused the council’s own disciplinary panel as to what the specific allegations were, the tribunal heard.

After the panel handed Mr Chapman a first written warning, he appealed the fact that the sanction would remain on his record indefinitely, only to withdraw the objection claiming he would not get a fair hearing.

The appeal panel met anyway to ‘hear new evidence’ and Mr Chapman, who did not attend, was sacked with the council stating there had been an ‘irretrievable breakdown of trust’ between him and staff.

Judge Cocks took a dim view of the proceedings stating the appeal panel had no power to increase the original sanction.

“As a result of this unsatisfactory state of affairs, the disciplinary process was not a fair one,” she said.

“The outcome from the disciplinary panel was that the appropriate sanction was a first written warning. The problem was the respondent [Malvern Town Council] did not like this decision of its own panel.

“As a result the appeal panel went way beyond what an appeal panel should have.”

Judge Cocks added: “Rarely have I seen a case of unfairness having been so apparent. I have no hesitation finding the claimant was unfairly dismissed.”

Despite the verdict the judge said the council had attempted to follow the ACAS code and had not ‘wilfully disregarded it’.

She also stated the council genuinely believed Mr Chapman had breached its bullying and harassment policy and was consequently guilty of gross misconduct.

The tribunal heard the former clerk was ‘contrite’ about his behaviour on October 2 admitting it was unacceptable, adding he was under ‘enormous stress’ on the day.

Click here to read how Richard Chapman and Malvern Town Council reacted to the verdict.

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