Journalists who worked across a series of West Country newspapers, which closed in January, claim they are still owed thousands in redundancy money and payments into their pension funds.
View From newspapers, which was based in Lyme Regis, Dorset, was closed on 4 January due to “falling revenues” according to former owner Peter Masters, also owner of the Sunday Independent.
Press Gazette has spoken with three separate sources close to View From, all of whom say some 27 former employees at the newspapers are still chasing redundancy and notice payments.
The matter was brought before an employment tribunal on 25 May, led by former View From deputy editor James Coles, where the total amount of outstanding redundancy and notice payments was estimated at £250,000.
The next hearing is due on a date in September.
Coles has also lodged a separate complaint with the Pensions Ombudsmen, which has confirmed it is investigating his claim alleging missing payments into the company’s pension scheme under Masters’ ownership.
Truro City Football Club chairman Masters bought the local newspaper group in July 2017 after previous owners Capital Media Newspapers went into administration.
However the newspaper group, which included eight free weekly newspapers serving Dorset, Devon and Somerset, and three local magazines, was closed six months later on 4 January 2018.
Employees were put on gardening leave with immediate effect and were given written redundancy notices on the date of closure.
Masters then sold the View From brand to Dorset-based businessman Duncan Williams who aimed to relaunch the titles.
During the transition period, staff claim wages that were due on 19 January went unpaid, as well as redundancy pay, National Insurance and tax contributions for November and December and company pension contributions.
In a statement Williams said he believed he had only acquired the intellectual property rights, such as the brand names, when he bought the newspapers and was not aware of outstanding staff payments.
However, Masters told Press Gazette that Williams bought the company as a going concern.
He said: “The reality is he had done his due diligence, along with others. His was the successful bid and he purchased the company. What happened after that is a matter for the owners as it is no longer under our control.”
He added that Williams “took over all liabilities, including pensions” as part of the deal, which he said was “done in good faith” and is the subject of a confidentiality agreement.
Williams has since sold the company on to Michael Banks, a businessman based in Portugal.
Masters said Phil Evans, former managing director of View From, was running the business “day-to-day”.
In a statement, Evans said: “After Christmas Mr Masters decided to close the company and the staff were all told they would be made redundant and put on gardening leave.
“He subsequently off-loaded the company to a third party, who has not paid the staff any notice money or redundancy and the matter is going to a tribunal.”
He confirmed there were also questions over pensions contributions being paid while Masters was the owner.
Coles told Press Gazette: “I don’t care who’s responsible as long as someone is and that we get the money we’re entitled to.”
The 27 former View From employees believe they are due payments for redundancy, notice pay, arrears of pay and the protective award.
The protective award gives compensation of up to 90 days’ pay, issued when 20 or more employees face a collective redundancy and were not informed and consulted properly by their employer.
Since View From newspapers’ closure the Paper for Honiton was launched, which covers the same Devon town as the View From Honiton used to.
The View From Blackdown Hills was purchased by Tindle newspapers from View From Publishing in 2009 and retained the original name. The free paper is still in print.