A TOP PR boss was sacked from his post at Homecoming Scotland without warning because bosses judged it more “humane”, a tribunal heard yesterday.
Richard Saville-Smith is suing VisitScotland – the public body behind the campaign – for unfair dismissal after he was fired following an episode of stress related depression.
The employment tribunal in Edinburgh heard that the £40,000 a year boss was put through the “charades” rather than tell him directly he would be dismissed at a meeting.
Mr Saville-Smith had previously received a letter to attend a meeting where his return to work would be discussed.
Questioning Paul Bush, chief executive officer of EventScotland which comes under the VisitScotland umbrella, Panel member James Warnock said: “Mr Saville-Smith received your letter regarding his return to work.“There is no suggestion that this meeting would discuss his dismissal.
“It says ‘the purpose of today’s meeting is to discuss your return to work’.
“I have been involved in employment matters all my life and had I been involved in this one I would have noted that there’s not a word about being dismissed.
“It must have been a tremendous shock to Mr Saville-Smith.
“Do you accept the purpose of the meeting being to return to work is an out and out blatant lie?”
Mr Bush, dressed in a smart dark blue double breasted blazer, replied: “Absolutely not.”
Mr Warnock continued: “You set the scene in August to get rid of this man. There were charades of meetings that everyone knew about except for Mr Saville-Smith.”
“Mr Bush replied: “I don’t agree with that. There were efforts made to have a dialogue.”
Mr Saville-Smith went off work on August 16, and had planned to return in November 2008, after treatment.
Mr Warnock asked: “In your evidence yesterday you said you’d never seen the GP report (from Saville-Smith’s doctor) or the psychiatric report.
“What evidence did you take regarding the reports?”
Mr Bush answered: “I took advice from our HR department.”
Mr Warnock said: “This HR department seems to run VisitScotland – quite remarkable.”
Mr Bush retorted: “I don’t accept that.”
The hearing was also told that VisitScotland employed a number of staff on temporary contracts meaning they could be dismissed at any time.
Mr Bush was challenged over the dismissal procedures at the organisation and asked what efforts were made to help Mr Saville-Smith with his condition.
Panel judge Ian McFatridge said: “Where you aware of the additional duty of public bodies to make arrangements for people with disabilities?”
CEO Bush replied: “Probably not, no.”
The tribunal also heard evidence from VisitScotland’s communications director Riddell Graham, who conducted Mr Saville-Smith’s employment appeal in January of this year.
Mr Graham claimed to have personally undertaken a “thorough” review of the evidence.
However he admitted that he had not actually read Mr Saville-Smith’s public relations plan for the Homecoming campaign – despite it being integral to his dismissal.
Examining Mr Graham as a witness, Mr Saville-Smith said: “Did you read my plan at the appeal stage?”
Mr Graham said: “I was aware of it – I haven’t actually read it.”
Mr Salville-Smith responded: “So you dismissed me on the basis of a performance issue with a plan you haven’t read?”
He also read out a passage from a letter he received turning down his appeal.
The letter insisted that his dismissal had been “based purely on your performance and not on the period of absence” caused by his work-related depression.
However the PR guru told the employment panel of two men and one woman that the appeal letter contradicted the dismissal letter he received, which said: “We feel your health would be adversely affected if you returned”.
Mr Graham also admitted he was unsure if he had read Mr Saville-Smith’s dismissal letter.
The panel also questioned Mr Graham over his admission that he had not spoken to any member of staff at VisitScotland during the appeal process, and not investigated the claims that Mr Salville-Smith made at the appeal.
Panel member Gillian Powell pressed Mr Graham, saying: “There was not one thing in the paperwork which said ‘I need to go and speak to someone about this’.”
Mr Graham replied: “Correct”.
The panel also heard that Mr Saville-Smith’s role was filled by a colleague on the day of the appeal which Mr Graham dismissed as a “co-incidence”.
Evidence at the hearing concluded yesterday and both parties now have to make their final written submissions before a decision is taken by the panel in the New Year.
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