IN THE high court last
week Mr Justice Eady awarded former nursery nurses Dawn Reed and Christopher
Lillie £200,000 each in libel damages against a Newcastle city council social
services review team which had falsely accused them of child abuse, after they
had already been acquitted in a criminal court. The council’s action had lacked,
said the judge, “both fairness and humanity”. He went out of his way to
emphasise that Reed and Lillie were completely innocent. This is not the first
time Newcastle has destroyed an employee’s career by surrendering to a lynch-mob
Private Eye, No 1060, 9-22 August
From Private Eye 1056, 14 June 2002
DEAF TO REASON
AS A RESULT OF A misheard 20-second phone call with a 13-year-old partially deaf and emotionally vulnerable foster child, a care worker with an unblemished record lost his job, was put on the sex offenders’ register and suffered a nervous breakdown that brought him to the brink of suicide.
The girl, whose hearing problems meant she often had to lip read, told her foster parents she thought the caller had made an obscene suggestion to her. The parents reported the call to police, who traced it to Newcastle care worker Paul Gillon, whose job was to support foster parents.
He had been trying to contact the parents to discuss problems they had been having with the child, when the girl herself answered the phone. Her foster mother was having her hair styled with a noisy hairdryer at the time, and when Gillon said he wanted to talk to her foster parents, the girl put the phone down on him.
Newcastle city council social services department suspended Gillon pending an investigation, during which he was not interviewed. He was then sacked following a disciplinary hearing at which he was not even present. In addition, his union rep was denied access to records that revealed details of the child’s hearing problems and the fact that she had a history of making up stories.
Although police did not pursue the matter, Gillon - who had spent nine years in social services and fostering - was put on the sex offenders’ register and banned from working with children ever again, without even being able to put his side of events.
He was vindicated last month when an industrial tribunal condemned the council for its “knee-jerk” reaction and awarded him the maximum £20,000 for unfair dismissal and discrimination. The panel said it would have liked to award him £90,000 for the suffering he had endured but was restricted by rules operating at the time of his illegal sacking in June 1999.
Gillon has now had his name removed from the sex offenders’ register, but he is still clinically depressed. He said: “They could give me a million pounds and I’d return every penny just to have the last four years of my life back.” He stressed that he had every sympathy with the child, who “did no more than damaged children sometimes do”; but said it was those responsible for the investigation and disciplinary hearing who should be sacked. “I am on anti-depressants, I can’t go I out in my own streets and I’ve suffered a nervous breakdown - and I just cannot understand how it was allowed to happen.”
Gillon’s solicitor Stefan Cross plans to take the case to the European court over the right to a fair hearing and a fair remedy and said: “Newcastle had been at the centre of two very big child abuse investigations and this time on the flimsiest of evidence, I think they simply decided that Paul’s career and life were disposable.” Newcastle city council did not want to discuss the case.