A businessman who paid £1 for a series of West Country newspapers has been ordered to pay £16,500 to a former staff member after he was found personally liable for her unfair dismissal.
Duncan Williams bought View From Newspapers, which included seven titles, from former owner Peter Masters last year just two weeks after he had closed them due to “falling revenues” and put staff on notice.
In September Williams (pictured) was ruled personally responsible for up to £250,000 owed to some 28 former employees of the group, which was based in Lyme Regis, Dorset.
An employment judge at Exeter Combined Court ruled all rights, powers, duties and liabilities had transferred to Williams when he bought View From.
Masters, who also owns the Sunday Independent and Cornwall Today, had bought the View From series in July 2017 after previous owners Capital Media Newspapers went into administration.
The View From series was part of his company Sunday Independent Ltd, which was bought by Williams who is now its director. However, Masters still retains the Sunday Independent newspaper brand.
Williams maintains that he believed he had only acquired the intellectual property rights, such as the View From brand names, and was not aware of outstanding staff payments.
Last week, an Exeter employment tribunal chaired by Judge Nicholas Roper unanimously found that Anita Routley, a former accountant at the newspaper group, had been unfairly dismissed.
She was sacked just one week before Christmas 2017 but was never given written reasons for her dismissal. Williams was ordered to pay Routley £16,483.10 in compensation for unfair dismissal.
Responding to the judgment, Williams said in a statement: “Mrs Anita Routley had been dismissed by the previous proprietor of the Sunday Independent Ltd prior to my taking over as the director.
“Consequently I had never actually met Anita, the company’s Lyme Regis based accountant, prior to the court hearing and judgment held in Exeter…
“Although I was the respondent in the case, I did not challenge Mrs Routley’s version of events. I could only apologise on behalf of the company and the behaviour of the previous proprietor.”
He added that Routley had been “treated appallingly”.
Masters, who is chairman and co-owner of Truro City Football Club, was absolved of any liability at the tribunal ruling last year.
“I’m nothing to do with it,” he told Press Gazette. “How Mr Duncan Williams wishes to run his business is entirely up to him and what he says about other people is up to him.
“I’ve no comment to make, what has been said has been said.”
Williams, who is a media director at Pulman’s Weekly News Group and franchise manager at Waterside lifestyle magazine on the south coast, added: “None of this sways my faith in regional media.
“Now more than ever I believe the UK needs strong local journalism and community media brands that people can interact with.”
The Sunday Independent Ltd was ordered to pay Routley £279.03 in unpaid pension contributions between July and December 2017, after Williams avoided personal liability for pre-dismissal pension claims.