A case of unfair dismissal
Sherlock Holmes would not be impressed by the investigation which took place into the case of the haunted cupboard at Pleckgate High School, and neither was the employment judge when faced with a teacher who was dismissed as a result of it.
Mr Basit had taught with an unblemished record at the high school for 12 years and was a self-professed lover of teaching.
The incident which led to Mr Basit’s dismissal arose in relation to a pupil misbehaving in his class. Mr Basit instructed him to remain at the back of his class and, in his typical humorous style, joked that the pupil should climb into the cupboard which he had previously joked was haunted. The pupil got into the cupboard of his own accord but only for a short time. However, after class the naughty pupil and two other classmates reported to the headmaster that Mr Basit had forced him into the cupboard.
The tribunal was heavily critical of the disciplinary process followed by the school but particularly the investigation and pointed to the following amongst its serious flaws:
- The behaviour records of the pupils who accused Mr Basit were never obtained, nor properly scrutinised. The tribunal felt that these would have provided vital context as to the credibility of the allegations. For instance, the pupil who got into the cupboard had a total of 364 entries on his behaviour record for abusing staff and pupils and disrupting classes, and had previously also told another teacher that he would “make something up about her” after she told him off for bad behaviour
- Mr Basit’s disciplinary record was clean and he had consistently positive appraisals
- The statements taken from the pupils contained inconsistencies but they were nevertheless relied upon and were preferred over Mr Basit’s account
- The whole class was not interviewed and the statements taken from the other pupils were also inconsistent but preferred to Mr Basit’s account
- Mr Basit was forced to produce a statement before he had been told about the allegations against him, and he was only given a few minutes in which to produce it
- After providing the statement Mr Basit was not allowed back into class, was forced to wait for over an hour before being summoned to a meeting in which he was suspended pending conclusion of the investigation
- A previous allegation made 2 years prior to the incident was relied upon as evidence of “pattern of behaviour”, despite the allegation never having been investigated, nor having resulted in any disciplinary action
- The investigator overstepped the mark several times, including when she introduced an allegation that forcing the pupil into the cupboard had damaged his emotional welfare, despite most accounts suggesting the pupil had been laughing and was being silly.
Despite pointing out numerous reasons why the investigation was unfair, including some of the above, at his disciplinary hearing, Mr Basit was dismissed for gross misconduct. His appeal, which was conducted entirely on paper (a decision which was also criticised by the tribunal), was not upheld.
The Employment Tribunal held that this dismissal was wrongful (i.e. it did not amount to gross misconduct allowing the school to dismiss him without notice) and unfair on the basis of the very flawed disciplinary process which had taken place. It highlighted that due to the seriousness of the allegations against Mr Basit and the severe implications for his career and livelihood, a thorough and careful investigation was needed but this had not been afforded him.
In particular, the tribunal criticised the investigation and its investigator, a Ms McGonagle. Luckily for Mr Basit, he had the nous of a great detective and the support of the Employment Tribunal to dispel the mystery and win this case.