Tribunal: News of the World reporter unfairly dismissed

An employment tribunal has accused editorial managers at the News of the World of bullying and in one case lying, upholding the unfair dimissal case of former sports writer Matt Driscoll.

Driscoll was sacked in April 2007 while on long-term sick leave for stress-related depression. A tribunal ruled that he was unfairly dismissed and discriminated against on grounds of disability – a remedy hearing is not due to be held.

Stratford Employment Tribunal said of his dismissal: “We find the behaviour to have been a consistent pattern of bullying behaviour… with the intention to remove him from their employment, whether through negotiating a settlement package or through a staged process of warnings leading to dismissal.

“The original source of the hostility towards the claimant [Driscoll] was Mr Coulson, the then editor of the News of the World; although other senior managers either took their lead from Mr Coulson and continued with his motivation after Mr Coulson’s departure; or shared his views themselves.”

Coulson – now chief spin doctor for the Conservative Party – resigned as News of the World editor in January 2007 after royal correspondent Clive Goodman was jailed for four months for intercepting the mobile phone messages of royal aides.

The tribunal criticised sports editor Mike Dunn saying: ‘We find that Mr Dunn, has with the benefit of hindsight and in order to attempt to bolster the respondent’s case, exaggerated any shortcomings the claimant may have had.”

And it also said it did not believe part of the evidence of deputy managing editor Paul Nicholas.

Driscoll joined the paper in 1997 and was promoted twice between then and 2001. That year he was moved from the North East of England to London and told he would be put on a salary of £50,000.

Dunn told him in April of that year that he would given a title of “something like chief sports feature writer”.

In 2002, a staff assessment saw Driscoll downgraded from “good” to “satisfactory” – with the reservation that although he occasionally excelled – he did not produce a steady enough flow of stories.

No appraisals were produced for the years 2003-2005.

Driscoll believes he fell foul of editor Coulson in late 2004 when the editor tipped him off that Arsenal were planning to play in purple shirts. Arsenal FC denied the story – but it appeared in The Sun three months later.

Driscoll claims that Dunn said to him: “Coulson will be on the warpath over this. We are dead.” Dunn denied having that conversation.

Driscoll was given a first warning in October 2005 because some disputed quotes were not backed up by a verbatim note.
After this NoW managing editor Stuart Kuttner sent Coulson an email saying: “Of course we could still fire him: and pay the going rate for that. Mike Dunn tells me Discoll can’t be got shot off?”

Driscoll wrote a letter complaining about his discplinary warning to which Coulson replied: “In my view your actions on this matter merited dismissal”.

The tribunal described this as “a bullying remark”.

Before being dismissed finally, Driscoll was given a series of warnings.

But the judgment said: ‘The impression given us, from reading the documentation and considering the evidence as a whole, was that the senior management team were going through a cynical process of giving an appearance of fairness towards him.

“By giving him a first warning, final warning and then dismissal, they hope to avoid a successful unfair dismissal claim.”

The tribunal heard that when editor Coulson found out Driscoll was off sick he sent an email to his deputy editor saying: ‘I want him out quickly and cheaply.’

The tribunal was told that following the ‘get him out’email, Driscoll received numerous phone calls, emails and recorded letters to his home between 17 July and 4 August 2006 from NoW staff.

Driscoll’s solciitor Jill Andrew, from London-based Dawsons LLP, said: “Matt Driscoll, a successful and well regarded sports journalist, has suffered greatly as a result of his treatment. His professional standing was unjustifiably attacked and this decision hopefully restores his reputation and will give him back his future.”

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