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North West council defends £4.9m Employment Tribunal claim brought by dismissed chief executive

South Ribble Borough Council was justified in its dismissal of former chief executive Heather McManus, the Employment Tribunal has ruled, according to a council report on the outcome of the case.

The full judgment is understood to not yet be available.

The council terminated Ms McManus’ employment without notice in July 2020.

She won her case only on that point, with the tribunal ruling that the evidence provided did not support departing from the recommendation of the independent investigator to provide contractual notice of 41 days.

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Ms McManus lost though on a claim over whistleblowing and another on unfair dismissal, having claimed a total of £4,942,596.95.

Her abrupt departure from the council came soon after auditors found it had suffered major failings in its governance. They gave ‘no assurance’ over two spending areas and criticised legal services procurement.

On the whistleblowing claim the tribunal found Ms McManus had made a protected disclosure but “there was no direct evidence that the detriments alleged arose as a result of the protected disclosure”, the council report said.

It went on: “The tribunal could not infer that the detriments arose as a result of the protected disclosure; but even if it could be inferred the issues addressed in the protected disclosure predated the protected disclosure and the acts of the council related to those earlier issues not the protected disclosure.”

Turning to Ms McManus’s unfair dismissal claim, it said: “As the claim under the protected disclosure failed the claim that the dismissal was automatically unfair also failed.”

Looking at the fairness of the dismissal, the tribunal said it made no criticism of the decision to suspend Ms McManus and found the council applied the relevant procedure fairly.

There was a lengthy and comprehensive investigation undertaken by an independent investigator with no flaws in that process and “the fact that the independent investigator did not find all the allegations of misconduct proven did not undermine the seriousness of the findings of misconduct identified”. The tribunal found that the decision to dismiss her was fair and lawful.

Mark Smulian

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