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The East London & West Essex Guardian | Posted 10th January 2012

Buckhurst Hill: Parish council forced to pay £75k in compensation

AN authority has been ordered to pay almost £75,000 in compensation after unfairly dismissing a former caretaker.

Last year Buckhurst Hill Parish Council was found guilty of unfairly dismissing John Lockhart, 63, who had worked for the authority for almost two decades and had a previously unblemished disciplinary record.

The council was found to have sacked Mr Lockhart after wrongly accusing him of falsifying his timesheets.

Mr Lockhart suffered severe depression as a result, and parish councillor Sylvia Watson recalled to the tribunal that on the day of Mr Lockhart’s appeal against being dismissed “he spent the morning with his head in his hands and spoke very little.”

The authority have been ordered by an Employment Tribunal to pay Mr Lockhart almost £75,000 in compensation.

Late last year all seven of the council’s ruling Liberal Democrat group walked out, leaving four Tory councillors holding the reins.

In December a second former parish council employee had their case for unfair dismissal heard at a tribunal, and the outcome of that hearing is expected at the end of the month.

Parish councillors have admitted that though they have enough money to cover the first payout, a second hefty compensation bill could wipe out their savings and force them to seek help from Epping Forest District Council.

However, there will be no increase to the parish precept, which will councillors recently decided will remain the same as last year.

Mr Lockhart, who lives in West Grove in Woodford Green, said: “The compensation would never be enough, the way the dismissal effected me.

“I have been extremely ill since this started and am just glad now that it is now over.”

He said that most of the money would be spent on lawyer’s fees.

“It was never really about the money though, it was about clearing my good name. The people of Buckhurst Hill deserve to know what has been happening.”

Parish councillor Ron Braybrook said: “we are waiting to see what the outcome of the second tribunal, but would have to go to the district council for assistance if there is another big payout.

“We do not have enough in our reserves to cover paying out as much again.”
A law unto themselves

We have a planning application in our village for which the Parish Council carried out a survey to solicit local opinion. The majority of the villagers objected with roughly 70% against the application and 30% for. Yet the Parish Council voted to approve the application. Is this right, as I thought the Council represented the majority of the Parishioners?