An employment tribunal judge has slammed Scottish Borders Council bosses following what he called “one of the most woefully inadequate investigations of misconduct I have ever come across”.
The judge, Ian McFartridge, made that claim during his summation of the case between Anthony Carson and the local authority.
Mr Carson, 51, of Hawick, regulatory services manager at Newtown since 2011, claimed he had been unfairly dismissed after allegations of “office bullying” and “micromanagement”.
The tribunal found in favour of Mr Carson, awarding him £56,581 and slamming the council’s handling of both the dismissal and the tribunal.
It was found that no formal or informal complaints had been made against Mr Carson, but he was told a number of allegations had been made about him and his management style.
He agreed to go to meetings to discuss these issues, but he was suspended before they took place.
He was dismissed in December 2016, without properly being made aware of what the allegations were.
He denied any wrongdoing, and the judge agreed with him.
It was the council’s handling of its end of the tribunal that angered the judge, though.
He named in particular, function manager Gillian Young, responsible for the investigation that led to Mr Carson’s dismissal, and David Robertson, the chief financial officer convening the disciplinary hearing ahead of it.
The judge agreed the pair were “inherently unreliable witnesses” and said: “Neither witness appeared to be willing to assist the tribunal by answering questions openly and honestly,”
He added: “Even during evidence in chief, MsYoung was not prepared to answer questions directly but simply leafed through the report and repeated sections which she felt might be of assistance to the case.
“Mr Robertson was also an entirely unsatisfactory witness. Like MsYoung, he was unwilling to answer questions in a straightforward way. He gave the impression of having made up his mind that he was not prepared to make any concessions, and even when the most obvious points were made, he refused to accept them.”
The judge went on to add that the unreliability of the witnesses made no impact on his final decision, but the way the council dealt with the dismissal did.
He said: “In my view, the agreed facts of the case clearly demonstrate the many ways in which the council failed to deal with this matter properly.
“It appears to me that, having belatedly realised this, Ms Young and Mr Robertson were simply attempting to do what they could to limit the damage by giving evasive answers to the tribunal.”
He went on: “The investigation in this case was well outside the range of reasonable responses and was one of the most woefully inadequate investigations of misconduct I have ever come across.
“Given that the circumstances of this case were that an employee with a hitherto-unblemished record was facing, and did in fact require to endure, dismissal for gross misconduct in respect of the allegations, the standard of investigation in this case was utterly shameful.”
After the judgement, Mr Carson said: “This has been very stressful. I am pleased that the tribunal agreed with me, but it’s difficult to take pleasure from this decision as I lost my job, it has ruined my career, and they put me through a lot of stress.
“I want to thank Thompson Solicitors and Unison for representing me. This is a reminder how important it is, even for senior managers, to join a trade union.”
Janet Stewart, Unison’s regional organiser, said: “I am an experienced union official, and I have never seen such a seriously damning verdict.
“This is a serious case. Scottish Borders Council conducts disciplinary procedures in a superficial manner.
“This must change. They do not give their employees the respect of a proper robust process.
“This case reminds them they are not above the law and it must act as a wake-up call.
“Anthony had an unblemished employment record, and Scottish Borders Council has destroyed his career and has cost Borders council tax payers £56,000 in the process.”
A representative of Thompson’s Solicitors, which represented Mr Carson, said: “This is one of the most scathing judgements we have seen from an employment tribunal.
“The judge finds that Scottish Borders Council has failed in almost every regard in terms of the investigation, the disciplinary decision, the process and lack of natural justice. They agreed with every criticism we made in this case.”
A spokesperson for the council said: “We are currently reviewing the judgement and will consider whether or not to submit an appeal.”