Case law updates

Dismissal of Council Manager ruled unfair following“seriously flawed” Investigation

A tribunal has ordered the reinstatement of a council manager and the payment of £100,618 in lost wages after his claim of unfair dismissal was upheld.

Mr Thornhill, who had worked for Camden Borough Council for 37 years, was dismissed from his role as street lighting and drainage manager in September 2017 following an internal investigation into the mishandling of a process that cost the council a large amount in compensation. Thornhill was accused of failing to report potential irregularities in a tender process, and of neglecting to inform his employer about interactions with one of the bidding companies, even though he had requested removal from the process following a serious accident to his son. He was told he could not be excused, as he was “the only person who knew anything about street lighting”. Following a disciplinary process Thornhill was dismissed.

However, the employment tribunal ruled that the investigation that led to the dismissal was seriously flawed. Although the reason for the dismissal – misconduct – was “potentially fair”, it ruled that “no reasonable employer would have come to the conclusion that Thornhill had acted dishonestly and/or had committed gross misconduct in these circumstances”. This was based on the evidence that the internal audit which investigated the circumstances of the loss never explained to Thornhill that he was being investigated for dishonesty or fraud, which meant he was unable to respond fully to these allegations at the disciplinary hearing.  Moreover much of the evidence in the audit was redacted or not provided, with minutes only existing for one of the five meetings held between the auditors and Thornhill.