Working relationship broke down: tribunal

By Dominic Ponsford

A tribunal has heard how there was a “complete breakdown” in the
relationship between former Sunday Times chief political correspondent
Eben Black and political editor David Cracknell.

It was also revealed that the Sunday Times has “raised the
standard”, meaning political journalists have to provide sourced,
attributable stories.

Black was sacked from the paper in February after refusing to be moved from politics to the job of defence correspondent.

Black
joined the Sunday Times in February, 1999, as chief political
correspondent on a contract which could be terminated by either side
giving eight months’ notice.

The tribunal heard that Black had
appraisals in 1999 and 2000 which found his work to be satisfactory,
but the latter also stated that he got off to a “difficult start”.

In 2001, he applied for the role of political editor which instead went to David Cracknell.

According to the tribunal summary, there were “difficulties” in the relationship between Black and Cracknell.

In
October 2002, Black sent an email to Cracknell saying: “David, I really
do not understand what is going on here. I have provided you with a
number of stories which, frankly, I think more than pass muster.
However, you have constantly implied that I am not doing my job
properly which, I think on reflection, you would accept not to be true.”

The tribunal heard that in February 2003, Sunday Times managing editor Richard Caseby had an informal meeting with Black.

His
notes of the meeting included references to poor performance, problems
with providing profiles for the Focus section of the paper and a
personality clash with Cracknell.

In May 2003 Black was appraised
again, when Caseby suggested his “stories were unattributable and that
he had never brought in a document”.

A four-month review period
was started, after which Black was told on 4 November that his
performance had not improved and he was to be moved to the job of
defence correspondent.

After Black refused the job move, the Sunday Times started a formal internal inquiry.

This concluded that there was a “complete breakdown” in the relationship between Black and Cracknell.

It
also found that: “Since Eben became chief political correspondent, the
Sunday Times has raised the standard of its requirement for its
political journalists, who are now expected to provide sourced,
attributable stories”.

In February 2004, Caseby decided to
dismiss Black for gross misconduct because he had refused to move to
the job of defence correspondent.

The tribunal rejected Black’s claim that the move was a demotion and constituted constructive dismissal.

Black
now works in public affairs for the law firm DLA and has said that he
intends to appeal the decision to the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

He said: “Both me and my legal team were astonished by the findings and rulings of the industrial tribunal.

“We
were astonished by its view of the evidence presented from the Sunday
Times and were astonished that David Cracknell was not produced in
court by the respondent.”

One aspect of Black’s appeal is likely
to focus on the clause in News International contracts that governs
whether journalists can be moved to other jobs.

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