Sacking of 'ear-flicking' Swindon Council antisocial behaviour team worker, judged unfair

This Is Wiltshire: Ian Napier Ian Napier

A JUDGE has ruled a Swindon Council antisocial behaviour team member was unfairly dismissed following complaints he flicked a colleague’s ears.

Ian Napier was sacked following a complaint by Debbie Chadwick-Edgar, who complained she had been ‘assaulted’ by the former police officer.

Mrs Chadwick-Edgar, a neighbourhood housing officer seconded to the team, reacted by punching Mr Napier before lodging a grievance saying she had been bullied.

She also complained that her chair was tampered with before she sat down for work one morning and she had been shunned by her teammates.

Mrs Chadwick-Edgar appeared as a witness for the council at Bristol Employment Tribunals yesterday but the case was decided in favour of Mr Napier.

In her cross-examination, Mr Napier asked her: “Do you agree there was a lot of banter, a lot of horseplay, within the team?”

Mrs Chadwick-Edgar replied: “It was never play. I don’t understand who would play in the office by physically assaulting another person, because that’s what it was to me.”

Yesterday Mr Napier, giving evidence, told the tribunal how Mrs Chadwick-Edgar had gone “ballistic” after finding her specially-adapted chair had been altered on September 4 last year. But he denied using the situation to belittle her.

Mr Napier, 60, said: “I have worked in that office for 10 years and I have never, ever heard anyone go off like that. It was stupid, absolutely stupid.”

Tom O’Donohoe, for Swindon Council, put it to Mr Napier that he continued to flick Mrs Chadwick-Edgar's ears after she had ceased to regard it as joke.

Mr O’Donohoe said: “You agreed during the course of your interview that flicking the ears was stupid, inappropriate behaviour.”

Mr Napier replied: “Yes, I agree. With hindsight it was a childish thing to do.”

Mr O’Donohoe referred to witness evidence suggesting Mr Napier had ignored Mrs Chadwick-Edgar’s requests to stop until she reacted angrily.

Mr O’Donohoe said: “You were persisting with this well beyond when Mrs Chadwick-Edgar made it clear she didn’t like it.”

Mr Napier replied: “As far as I was concerned she was taking it as a bit of banter.”

He admitted using the word “pathetic” to describe Mrs Chadwick-Edgar but said: “I may have used the word ‘pathetic’. I was very, very annoyed with Debbie. I’d never dream of shouting at a colleague.”

Mr O’Donohoe also put it to him that he had broken confidentiality rules while suspended by discussing the case with colleagues, which he denied.

The saga also dragged in council lawyer Francis Maples, who worked closely with the team and prepared antisocial behaviour orders. Mr Maples spoke eloquently in his evidence about Mr Napier’s ‘zeal and energy’ and the damage the rifts had caused the local authority.

He said: “Whatever the resolution is in this case I hope the lessons are learnt for future disciplinary matters.

“It has caused huge damage to relationships, trust and polarisation within the council.”

Mr O’Donohoe, summarising, said the council had reasonable grounds to dismiss Mr Napier for gross misconduct.

Mr Napier said the case had cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds and the lengthy investigation process had been flawed.

Judge Paul Housego ruled that he had been unfairly dismissed.

He said: “I’m minded to order reinstatement but the respondent has stated he is not prepared to address me on that today. Accordingly there will be a remedy hearing.”

Mr Napier is likely to receive a cash settlement from the council that would ‘not be large’ and would be linked to his reinstatement, he said.

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