Almost 30 regional journalists are set to receive thousands in notice pay after losing their jobs “with barely a minute’s notice” three years ago.
Businessman Duncan Williams (pictured) bought the Dorset-based View From series for £1 in January 2018, two weeks after it was closed by its previous owner with all of its approximately 30 employees put on notice of redundancy.
All 27 staff members still owed notice pay are now expecting payments from the Insolvency Service of at least some of the sums owed after Williams was declared bankrupt by the Plymouth County Court.
Former deputy editor James Coles, who led both a tribunal claim and the bankruptcy petition against Williams, said: “The amount of work to get to this stage, and receive what we’ve been entitled to for so long, has been staggering.
“It’s a warning to anyone who believes, as an employee, they are genuinely protected by law in this country, just how easy it is for their employer to break these supposed rules.
“Mr Williams purchased the View From for the obligatory £1 in a deal which was obviously ‘too good to be true’, as it meant he took on the company’s debts, shortly after we had lost our jobs with barely a minute’s notice.”
An employment judge at Exeter Combined Court previously ruled all rights, powers, duties and liabilities had transferred to Williams when he bought View From, although he claimed he believed he was only buying the brand.
Fourteen former members of staff who were involved in the employment tribunal received redundancy payments from the Insolvency Service last year as Williams was unable to pay an estimated £1m in total debts relating to View From.
Not all staff were eligible for these payments as they had not all been with the company for at least two years when they were dismissed.
Now that Williams has been declared bankrupt, all 27 ex-employees can claim their notice pay and a protection award (compensation) given by the tribunal judge from the Insolvency Service, although the latter payment will be capped.
The View From newspapers, based in Lyme Regis, were closed by former owner Peter Masters in January 2018 because of “falling revenues”.
He had bought the business six months earlier, and continues to own Cornwall’s Sunday Independent newspaper.
Masters has been ruled not liable for claims by former employees after arguing Williams, who had planned to relaunch the newspapers, bought the business as a going concern.
Coles said: “It was a sorry end to what was originally a great, family-run business, but at least my former colleagues and I can finally look forward to our severance pay, hopefully in time for Christmas. A rare positive for 2020.”
Williams said in a statement: “It was never my intention to deny any journalist their pay, I simply objected to the court’s decision to make me personally liable for these debts when these should have been shouldered by a limited liability company formation.
“I wish everyone well with their future careers, whether this be in print or digital journalism. We are living through a period of time where accurate and trusted news reporting has never been more important.”
Picture: Duncan Williams