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Council clerk’s legal battle after handing out tomato plants to colleagues

October 20 2014

A council clerk, accused of favouritism over the way he handed out tomato plants to colleagues, has won his legal battle for unfair dismissal.

Richard Chapman, dismissed by Malvern Town Council after 12 “unblemished years” lost his job following allegations of bullying, harassment and favouritism, an employment tribunal was told.

The Birmingham Mail reports that he was dismissed on grounds of gross misconduct.

However, during a tribunal hearing in Birmingham, judge Mary Cocks described the authority’s investigation as flawed.

“The council acted outside the bounds of reasonable responses in dismissing Mr Chapman,” she said.

The tomato incident was presented as one example of the former clerk’s favouritism with one female worker claiming Mr Chapman had doled out the plants from his greenhouse to all staff members except her.

Allegations that Mr Chapman shouted at two staff members and another individual after falling foul of a car park attendant were also investigated by the council.

The local authority, which opposed Mr Chapman unfair dismissal claim, alleged he had “breached the council’s bullying and harassment policy.”

After being suspended from work, Mr Chapman was eventually allowed to return to work but later dismissed in April.

Mr Chapman agreed he made tomato plants from his garden available to all staff members.

”The allegations were used to continue my suspension after I had been invited back to work. The dismissal procedure was flawed,” said Mr Chapman.

He said he had a good working relationship with staff but there had been a “very difficult period” with councillors referred to the Malvern Hills District Councillors for alleged breaches of the local government code of conduct.

He revealed in his statement he had made a complaint regarding the behaviour of a councillor towards staff, other councillors and members of the public.

After the four-day hearing tribunal, judge Miss Mary Cocks announced that Mr Chapman had been unfairly dismissed.

She said the investigation had been flawed and that the council had failed to “pin down” and make the allegations clear to Mr Chapman.

“The council acted outside the bounds of reasonable responses in dismissing Mr Chapman,” she said. Pointedly, the judge concluded she had rarely heard a case “where the unfairness of the dismissal was so apparent to me”.

After a brief adjournment, the council and Mr Chapman reached an agreement in private over the amount he would be awarded.

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