Woolwich loses his case for wrongful dismissal

Woolwich: “not convincing”

BBC current affairs producer Paul Woolwich has lost his High Court case for wrongful dismissal against independent production company Twenty Twenty Productions, after he was sacked for bullying staff two years ago.

He brought the case against Twenty Twenty founding partners Claudia Milne and Mike Whittaker, as well as a fourth partner Peter Casely-Hayford, following his dismissal from the post of director in February 2001.

In addition, Woolwich filed for compensation for unfair prejudice and a breach of the shareholders agreement (for using their majority shareholding to remove him from the board), and sought an order for the directors to compulsorily purchase his 24 per cent stake in the company.

As he dismissed the lawsuit against the company on all three counts, judge Sir Donald Rattee said he had not seen Woolwich as “a reliable witness” in the case.

“I should say at this point that I did not find Mr Woolwich a convincing witness. I am not persuaded that he was deliberately telling untruths, but I do think that he has – and demonstrated in his evidence – a considerable propensity for deluding himself into thinking, and then seeking to persuade others, that things were said and done which suit the case he is seeking to put forward.”

Production manager Melanie Vasey had been bullied by Woolwich on several occasions, and cited an instance in August 2000 when he had shouted: “This is what feeds your daughter, this is your responsibility,” as he waved a videotape in her face because it had been found out of its box.

Morale among staff had begun to drop thereafter, and other incidents are said to have followed over the autumn of 2000.

Moves to remove Woolwich from Twenty Twenty began after Vasey and her assistant Bea O’Connell told directors they could no longer work with him, and were considering leaving. Both members of staff gave evidence that “they and Miss Vasey in particular, became very demoralised by constant criticism, often in unreasonably harsh terms”.

After the case was dismissed, Twenty Twenty directors said in a joint statement that they were “relieved to have been vindicated”.

Woolwich is known for his work on programmes such as The Big Story and This Week on ITV and Channel 4’s Dispatches and is now an executive producer on Kenyon Confronts.

By Wale Azeez

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