Former News of the World journalists given green light to sue for unfair dismissal

MoJThree former News of the World journalists have won the right to bring their unfair dismissal claims against a giant newspaper conglomerate to a full merits hearing.

Neville Thurlbeck (former chief reporter at News of the World), James Weatherup and Ian Edmonson (both former news editors of the paper) had been dismissed in 2011 on allegations of gross misconduct and had subsequently made unfair dismissal claims against News Group Newspapers to the Employment Tribunal.

The three former News Group Newspaper employees had been arrested in March and April 2011 on suspicion of having intercepted the voicemails of celebrities, but none of the three were charged with this crime until July 2012. However, after being arrested they were dismissed in September 2011 on allegations of gross misconduct. The three employees were expecting to receive redundancy payments (as other staff members did) when the business closed in July 2011 and the former employees of the News of the World were moved to other parts of the News Group Newspapers group. However, less than two months after the News of the World was closed the three were sacked for “alleged gross misconduct”.

Upon receiving the claims, News Group Newspaper’s lawyers made an application to the Employment Tribunal for the three claims to be struck out as being “vexatious”, an “abuse of process”, and having “no reasonable prospect of success.”

The case came to the East London Employment Tribunal earlier this year, with Employment Judge Brian Doyle ruling that the former employees’ claims were not vexatious or an abuse of process and that they did not have no reasonable prospects of success. Judge Doyle stated in his written reasons that: “Reduced to their essentials, the claimants’ complaints of unfair dismissal are that, prior to their summary dismissals on 2 September 2011, they had not been subject to any allegations by their employer that they had committed acts of gross misconduct. What they did, they assert, was part of the culture of the organisation. They had been anticipating dismissal by reason of redundancy, with a suitable redundancy package.”

Employment Judge Doyle also found that the dismissals appeared to rely on the findings of the management and standards committee (MSC), which had been set up by the parent company News Corp to investigate the allegations that News of the World employees had hacked voicemails. However, Employment Judge Doyle found that Mr Thurlbeck and Mr Weatherup had not been provided with the reasons for their dismissal and that no investigation or procedure had been carried out prior to their dismissal.

The unfair dismissal claims of Mr Thurlbeck, Mr Weatherup, and Mr Edmonson will now proceed to full merits hearings in 2015.

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans Solicitors, commented on the case: “Businesses have an obligation under the Employment Rights Act 1996 to ensure that employees are given written reasons for their dismissal, that the procedure for their dismissal is fair, and that the dismissal is substantively fair. The fairness of the three former employees’ dismissals will now be determined by an Employment Judge at full merits hearings in 2015.”