A HIGHWAYS foreman who was sacked after allegedly moonlighting at the home of Northumberland County Council’s leader has won his claim for unfair dismissal.
Nigel Riley, 47, was dismissed by the authority following an internal investigation, after it was discovered he delivered sand to help a colleague who was building a new driveway at the Blyth home of the then council leader, Bill Brooks.
Now – following a Newcastle hearing in June – an employment tribunal has ruled that Mr Riley, who lives in Cramlington, was unfairly dismissed.
Last night the county council said it would appeal – and rejected any suggestion that it had tried to protect Coun Brooks during its internal investigation.
Mr Riley and his colleague Joe Fletcher, who had been commissioned by Coun Brooks’ wife to build the new driveway, were both sacked for gross misconduct after the affair – which happened in 2005 and involved the use of a council lorry – came to light.
Coun Brooks said he had been completely unaware that county council employees were involved in the job, and the two men did not realise they were working at the home of the council leader.
At the tribunal hearing, Mr Riley’s solicitor, Robert Gibson, claimed internal investigators at the county council had initially been refused permission by executive officers to question Coun Brooks in their 250 hours of investigation.
He said: “The council’s own actions prejudiced their own investigation.”
Mr Riley said he was never told what the investigation was focusing on and said he was simply helping a friend on the way home from work.
He said last night: “I was highly delighted with the decision of the tribunal in unanimously finding that I had been unfairly dismissed.
“I am disappointed with the attitude of Northumberland County Council who seem unwilling to accept this verdict.”
His wife Lynne said: “A lot of questions should be asked about how much this cost. They followed my husband for months.”
Last night a county council spokesman said: “We are surprised and disappointed by the tribunal judgment and are lodging an appeal against this decision. Following a complaint by a member of the public alleging inappropriate use of a council vehicle for non-council purposes, two staff were disciplined and dismissed for gross misconduct. Mr Riley was also accused of breaches of the council’s code of conduct.
“We took this allegation very seriously and launched a full investigation.
“The tribunal did find that Mr Riley assisted in the misuse of a council vehicle, and claimed overtime payment when he was not actually working for the council. The council believes that this amounts to a serious breach of trust between employer and employee, and we take the view that this is a highly inappropriate way for any member of staff to behave.
“We completely refute any suggestion the council was trying to protect Coun Brooks during the investigation.
“A full investigation was carried out and he was interviewed.
“The claimant did not allege, and the tribunal did not find, that Coun Brooks was involved in anything untoward. Neither did our investigation show this.”
Coun Brooks, who has since given up the leader’s post, said: “I knew nothing about the identity of this worker and I didn’t have any reason to suspect a link to the council. My wife rang him when he was recommended to her. I was in favour of a full investigation.
“I was glad to co-operate fully with the internal investigation, which I did. The person who reported this did right. I take what has happened very seriously. The public need to have confidence and trust in public servants.”