Prison guards claims unfair dismissal over sexual assault sacking

MoJA former prison officer has made a legal claim against his former employer after he was sacked in 2013 for failing to report the fact that his wife had accused him of a sexual assault.

Mr John Palfreman, a former prison guard at Low Moss Prison in Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow, failed to tell his employer, the Scottish Prison Service (“SPS”), for a week that he had been arrested and that charges had been brought against him for sexual assault by his wife.

Mr Palfreman, who had worked for the Scottish Prison Service for 16 years, was dismissed for gross misconduct, even though all charges against him were later dropped. He subsequently brought a claim for unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal, claiming that his dismissal was outside the range of reasonable responses in the circumstances.

The case came to the Employment Tribunal last month, with Mr Palfreman giving evidence in his favour. Mr Palfreman stated that he was aware that he was obliged to inform the governor of the prison that he had been arrested but was not aware of the time frames in which he had to do this.

The tribunal heard that Mr Palfreman had returned from annual leave on 12 April 2013 and had immediately asked to see the governor. However, upon doing so he was told that the governor in fact wanted to see him. An investigation was subsequently undertaken and the decision to sack Mr Palfreman made.

The Scottish Prison Service’s lawyer cross-examined Mr Palfreman on his approach to the situation, telling him that the service’s employment policy stated that he was obliged to report such matters to the governor “without delay” and asking him why he had waited for almost a week before reporting his arrest to the governor.

Mr Palfreman’s lawyer claimed that “no reasonable employer” would have dismissed his client, taking into account that he had an “unblemished record, the fact that he was on leave after his arrest and that he was not aware of when he had to report such things.”

Chris Hadrill, an employment solicitor at Redmans Solicitors, commented on the case: “Mr Palfreman is arguing at the Employment Tribunal that his employer failed to carry out a reasonable investigation and to have a reasonable belief that his conduct warranted dismissal, particularly when taking account the mitigating factors. We will have to wait and see what conclusion the tribunal comes to in assessing the case.”

The Employment Tribunal continues, with a judgment in the case expected next year.