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Bonkers Blog July 2011

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1 July - Ashford Employment Tribunal finds Bexley council guilty of unfair dismissal
1 July - Click any image for a more comprehensive Court report

Thames Innovation CentreThe former receptionist at Bexley council‘s Thames Innovation Centre (TIC) made a claim for unfair dismissal at Ashford Employment Tribunal on 28th and 29th June and the three judges unanimously held that Bexley council had unfairly dismissed Miss Caroline Queen from her job at TIC. While at the TIC she witnessed the police arrest and handcuff its manager Richard Edwards and seize his computer and the company’s servers. The charge was one of downloading and storing images of child pornography. Nearly a year later he stood trial and was imprisoned for that offence. However Richard Edwards returned to work immediately after his arrest with the support of Bexley council‘s HR director who refused to suspend him. Further support was given to Edwards at Miss Queen’s appeal heard by council leader Colin Campbell and continued until his eventual resignation with a job reference some seven months later.

The TIC was not unused to sexual offences; “bum squeezing” and love triangles were both revealed by cross-examination at the Tribunal. On the surface Bexley council’s Thames Innovation Centre (TIC) is just a money pit that swallows hundreds of thousands of our cash each year but beneath the surface and on the admission of its own directors it was a hotbed of gossip and intrigue with an unenviably poor atmosphere in which staff and tenants were expected to co-exist. The TIC is not only built on an unsound financial basis requiring huge underwriting by Bexley council’s tax payers but the whole edifice appears to be built on lies. Its website claims TIC to have good transport links when the minutes of its board meetings reveal that one of the reasons for its poor performance is inadequate transport links. 30 minutes from London Bridge it proudly proclaims, neatly ignoring the five minute walk to the Belvedere station bus stop and the four bus an hour service.

Public Coffee ShopBexley council leader and TIC director Colin Campbell told the Tribunal under oath that TIC had no publicly accessible Coffee Shop, a version of events which suited the council’s defence. The Coffee Shop has an advertisement out on the public road to try to attract additional custom and carries the same message on its website. The evidence provided was simply untrue. Miss Queen believes that was not the only thing said on oath that was untrue.

A member of staff who was acknowledged by at least one TIC director to have been ‘screwing around’ with both a company client and possibly the TIC manager too, was never advised that her activities might be harming the TIC’s reputation, on the contrary it was officially announced and by implication condoned at a staff meeting. By contrast the receptionist was criticised for allegedly gossiping with clients and eventually dismissed for failures that Bexley council had not brought to her attention.

Bexley council’s defence at the Tribunal was conducted by their solicitor Guy Atkins who produced three witnesses. Each was allowed to hear the evidence of the other witnesses allowing them to ‘correct’ any errors made by earlier witnesses. Not a procedure that encourages justice.

Council deputy leader Colin Campbell Richard EdwardsMs. Queen was unhappy about Richard Edwards’ daily presence and said so, one of her fears being that there was a foetal scanning facility within TIC and pregnant mothers were coming in with toddlers and older children on a regular basis. They were at risk, as were members of the public who popped in to use the Coffee Shop.

I particularly enjoyed the morning session on the second day when Bexley’s solicitor Guy Atkins spent two hours grilling the plaintiff and former receptionist about every aspect of the case that he thought might discredit her and a young woman with no legal training was able to rebuff every criticism with an explanation of why his accusations must be unfounded. The reason for her ease was that she merely had to come out with the truth and the council’s case against her was undone.

Unfortunately no employee with less than 12 months service has any employment rights at all. Such staff can be sacked on any pretext whatever. The only exception is if the sacking is linked to the employer’s dishonesty or other crime. In this case the alleged theft of post by the lover of a man who it was believed had committed fraud against his company. Miss Queen. therefore had to prove that she had been sacked because she reported that theft to Richard Edwards and because of her oft stated belief he should not be there at all, he was caused to decide that reasons had to be found to enable her dismissal. Bexley council maintained that Mr. Edwards had nothing to do with her sacking despite the dismissal letter being signed by him. According to the council she was sacked by a committee including TIC chairman Derek Harris and councillor Campbell, the same men who went on to dismiss her appeal. In law that doesn’t matter, Bexley could sack her on any trumped up charge and probably did. With Richard Edwards stuck in jail it was near impossible to link him directly to the dismissal when Bexley council insisted he had nothing to do with it. Evidence before the Court showed he had signed the letter of dismissal and who but him could have persuaded the committee that a receptionist they admitted to barely knowing deserved to lose her job?

Richard Edwards never was suspended by Bexley council from his position as manager of TIC but continued to work there without a computer and little to do until a few days after he was charged with paedophilia. He was allowed to resign with a reference and according to reports walked into a similar job before the law finally caught up with him. Miss Queen has nothing, no reference, no job and no compensation because with Edwards beyond cross examination the onus of proof that he sacked her and not a committee who admitted to knowing nothing of her proved impossible to the Court’s satisfaction.

Miss Queen is grateful to the Court for stating so positively that she was unfairly sacked by Bexley council. Given the wealth of evidence against them they must rank as one of the country’s worst public service employers.

The full story is rather more complex than this brief summary can reveal and a much expanded account may be found via the main site’s News menu. Read it and judge whether Bexley council is an employer with zero management skills or any knowledge whatever of good employment practice.

 

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