Case law updates

“Insufficient” investigation leads to UD award

A probation officer accused of developing an “abusive and controlling relationship” with a former offender has been awarded £57,500 for unfair and wrongful dismissal.

Julia Hyland (JH), a probation officer at Cheshire & Greater Manchester Community Rehabilitation Company, was dismissed after a service user (SU) alleged she developed an “aggressively abusive” relationship with him.

However, the employment tribunal has ruled that Hyland was unfairly dismissed because the investigation into the “complex” and “highly unusual” case was insufficient, given that the claimant was facing potentially career-ending allegations. It judged that there had been a failure to adequately seek evidence in her defence.

Hyland had worked as a probation officer for 19 years before the allegations led to the termination of her employment in 2017. Whilst working as senior case manager with perpetrators of domestic violence aged 25 and under, the SU made the allegations against her.

In August 2016, JH was invited to a meeting and informed that she would be suspended. She denied the allegations as “unbelievable” and “utter nonsense”, but was escorted from the office. In the same month a manager in her organisation was appointed investigating officer.

Although JH submitted evidence to the investigating officer, and made suggestions as to how her evidence could be corroborated, these were not followed up. On the basis of the investigation the employer concluded there was a case to answer and at the disciplinary hearing in August 2017 JH was dismissed for failing to uphold the professional standards expected of her. A subsequent appeal was heard and rejected.

In reviewing the process the tribunal concluded that while there was convincing and compelling evidence on both sides, the investigation had ultimately been insufficient, citing failures to investigate possible faked messages. Given that JH’s livelihood was on the line, the tribunal took the view that a more thorough assessment should have been undertaken to verify the information provided. It noted that that had been “a blanket acceptance” that everything the SU said was accurate.