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Managers sacked for gross misconduct take council to tribunal

PUBLISHED: 15:43 10 April 2019 | UPDATED: 16:10 10 April 2019

The council offices in Dockside. Picture: Ken Mears

The council offices in Dockside. Picture: Ken Mears

Archant

An employment tribunal has opened into the cases of three managers sacked for gross misconduct from Newham Council's repairs and maintenance service.

Richard Musson, Westley Mitchell and Amrik Thathy claim to have been unfairly dismissed last July and are seeking to recover between £37,000 and £58,000 each from the council.

Their dismissal took place after an investigation into overtime payments in the division, which is responsible for repairs to tenants’ homes in the borough.

All three have admitted to making inaccurate overtime claims in 2017 but claimed in the tribunal they did so on the instruction of the then-operations director, Tony Abbs.

They have also pointed out that other RMS operatives investigated over the same issue only received written warnings – and in one case was later promoted.

In his statement, Mr Mitchell, who had been in the council’s employ since 1997, said: “The dismissal was unfair.

“The respondent [the council] failed to carry out a fair or thorough investigation into why I was treated differently to other employees who are guilty of the same misconduct.”

The council has responded that they were not unfairly dismissed and that their cases were the most serious of the ones that were looked into.

At the start of proceedings at the East London Tribunal Hearing Centre yesterday an application by the council to delay the start of the case was unsuccessful.

The first claimant, Richard Musson, a then-senior repairs and regeneration manager, was suspended in September 2017 over allegations he let RMS operatives carry out renovation works at his house on work time, using work resources.

He received a letter in December 2017 to say no further action would be taken on that matter, but was also then named in the overtime report.

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The report detailed claims made by a number of RMS operatives over six months after allegations that some employees were falsely claiming overtime for hours they had not worked.

Repairs managers Westley Mitchell and Amrik Thathy were also suspended on basic pay after being named in the report.

All three were subject to disciplinary hearings and the head of customer transactions, Chris Boylett, had drafted written warnings for all three in late July.

In an email to a colleague, he said: “A final written warning is the most appropriate course of action. I am not satisfied that the level of misconduct warrants a dismissal and feel I would not be able to justify this at an appeal.”

But he subsequently changed his mind all three were dismissed without notice on July 31, 2018.

The reversal took place shortly after Mr Boylett had a face-to-face meeting with the commissioning director for RMS, Simon Letchford.

At the tribunal, Mr Boylett was asked by the claimants’ legal counsel if he had been put under pressure by Mr Letchford to change his mind.

He denied that was the case and said at the time of the meeting “I hadn’t finalised my decision… As managers they should not have acted that way.”

Employment judge Fiona McLaren also heard evidence from the council’s current director of enforcement, Matthew Hooper, who had chaired the three men’s appeal hearings in October and November after which the original decisions were upheld.

He said: “Chris Boylett was reviewing the evidence and over a short period of time he changed his mind. I’ve been in this position and I’ve changed my mind too, without any external influence. It didn’t strike me as improper.”

Parts of the tribunal are likely to be postponed. Mr Letchford provided a witness statement but is understood to be indisposed and could not attend yesterday.

The council’s head of assurance, Jeremy Wellburn, was due to be quizzed this afternoon and witnesses on behalf of the three managers will be called later on.

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