Sacked town clerk heavily criticised in damning judgement - procedurally council got it wrong but report says they WERE right to fire him

Erbie Murat

Erbie Murat - Credit: Archant

Sacked Wisbech town clerk Erbie Murat has been heavily criticised in a damning judgement by an employment tribunal where he alleged unfair dismissal against his former employers.

Earlier this week Erbie Murat claimed to be pleased “my good name has been restored after what has been a very difficult and protracted period”.

But the full, 38 page judgement, just released, reveals that a finding of unfair dismissal was on a technicality and numerous other claims by him during a two week hearing were dismissed.

The tribunal found his sacking was “procedurally unfair” but also concluded that on computer misuse alone the council was entitled to fire him.

Council leader David Oliver said: “The decision of Wisbech Town Council to dismiss Mr Murat was perfectly in order; the judgement makes the comment that his conduct was sufficiently serious to be viewed as a breach of contract, justifying dismissal.

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“The council is pleased that the employment tribunal had endorsed their view that they had taken appropriate and proportionate action to address the misconduct by Mr Murat.”

Cllr Oliver added: “On the basis of that decision, no compensation for dismissal has been awarded to Mr Murat. He has, however, been granted a basic award which is thought to be less than £4,000 because the tribunal concluded that there were some issues in the manner in which the council had operated the disciplinary process that ultimately led to Mr Murat’s dismissal.”

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He said the council’s costs were being met by their insurers which would not have been the case “if the council had agreed to any of the various offers from Mr Murat to agree a financial settlement instead of proceeding to the employment tribunal.”

The judgement paints a picture of a council at loggerheads over a multitude of issues with their town clerk.

Suspended in January 2013 later investigations discovered breaches of the data protection act and a break down in relationships.

The judgement notes that “if there had been no procedural unfairness in the way identified, would the claimant’s dismissal have been fair? We conclude that it would have been, and that there was a 100 per cent chance that he would have been dismissed, on the day that he was, for the computer misconduct.”

Five councillors and the deputy town clerk all gave evidence against Mr Murat, who was the only witness for his case.

The hearing heard Mr Murat was initially suspended in January 2013 after he made an “aggressive” hand gesture to then town council leader David Oliver before storming out of a meeting.

He was summarily dismissed in November the same year for gross misconduct,

The tribunal heard how “highly confidential” information relating to staff at Fenland District Council was among material found on Mr Murat’s work computer. There was also “no less than 15 self-authored books, personal correspondence and a large amount of family photographs” - all discovered during investigations into whether or not he had breached data protection.

A report of the hearing’s findings said the investigation was prompted after Mr Murat himself had demanded documentation from his computer as part of his case for unfair dismissal.

The report said it was discovered there was a considerable amount of material on Mr Murat’s computer that did not relate to the Wisbech council including correspondence relating to his son and his schooling.

But the “greatest concern” was the fact there was material concerning and involving the claimant’s wife, who was at one-time employed by Fenland District Council in HR. The material clearly related to Mrs Murat’s role in HR and contained information relating to third parties, which was of a highly confidential nature and was not password protected.

The report also revealed Mr Murat’s obsession with beadle Alister Hopkin and his insurance claim for compensation after he hurt his back when a church pew collapsed was at the heart of the issue.

He had also prevented the beadle from getting the mayoral chain fixed for nearly three years because he did not “regard the beadle as being competent to look after the chain.”

Mr Murat had even abolished the beadle’s right to travel expenses in a ploy to stop him taking the chain for repair.

The beadle had written a letter of complaint and Mr Murat was warned not to contact him about the letter, which he totally ignored and retaliated by accusing the beadle of “going behind his back” which he alleged was a form of “bullying”, to prevent the claimant from doing his job.

Mr Oliver had told him “quite explicitly not to contact the beadle with regards to the letter from the beadle or the insurance payment as Mr Farmer would deal with it” - an instruction he immediately ignored.

The tribunal concluded: “It was entirely reasonable and, we would say, lawful for Cllr Oliver to ask the claimant not to contact the beadle about the insurance claim, when it was quite clear that the beadle felt that he was being harassed by the claimant.”

It was during a meeting to discuss why he had ignored this instruction that Mr Murat had made the hand gesture and walked out despite being warned that he would be facing suspension if he left.

The report concluded: “On the basis of the evidence that we have heard and read, we have reached the conclusion that the claimant’s misconduct was sufficiently serious to be viewed as a repudiatory breach of his contract, justifying summary dismissal.

“As we have already concluded, he was in a position of trust, and he should have not known what was right and what was not in so far as storage of and access to data was concerned. We have regard to the amount and the content of the material, and the risk to the council both in terms of cost and reputation, which is an on going risk. It is not appropriate to make any award for notice in pay in the circumstances.”

Mr Murat, now manager of the Wisbech volunteer centre, said it was a “straight forward case of unfair dismissal and the tribunal ruled in my favour”.

He said that “money was never an issue. I am simply pleased that my good name has been restored after what has been a very difficult and protracted period.”

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