A FOOD inspector who was sacked over comments he made on Facebook has been awarded more than £30,000 at an employment tribunal.

Alan Blue, a former meat hygiene inspector for the Food Standards Agency at Wishaw Abattoir in North Lanarkshire, was unfairly dismissed after he 'liked' a comment on the social media site which appeared to threaten violence towards the site's manager.

It followed the sacking of two abattoir workers who posted comments about their dismissal online.

When one wrote about the manager being attacked, Mr Blue, 51, of Eaglesham, wrote: "Aye right, i wish." (sic)

The other sacked employee then wrote that his boss was "lucky a never f***ed a chair aff his heed" and Mr Blue 'liked' the comment.

The Facebook posts were then brought to the attention of management at the abattoir, who in turn complained to the FSA.

Mr Blue said: "I was quite shocked when I saw the workers had been sacked and I sympathised with them.

"I said I was sorry to hear that and said 'that place is getting worse'. Then one of them made the comment about hitting one of the bosses over the head with a chair and - taking it as banter - I 'liked' it.

"I found it kind of humorous, I didn't think for a minute that he actually meant it and I never wanted anybody to get hurt.

"It was a private conversation between friends, I thought it was just the same as having a chat down the pub, but somebody then showed it to the manager."

The FSA launched a disciplinary investigation on the matter, claiming the posts were a "breach of trust" and "not professional".

The agency also claimed all of its employees had been issued with guidance on the use of social media, however the tribunal found that this was "primarily directed at use at work".

Mr Blue - who was dismissed in November last year - said the loss of his job was "gutting".

He added: "I couldn't believe that I had been sacked after 20 years' service for a stupid conversation on Facebook.

"It's caused me a lot of stress and heartache. I've been an anti-depressants and, financially, it's really pushed me over the edge.

"I've been unemployed since my dismissal and I've lost count of the number of jobs I've applied for.

"The trouble is that the job I was doing was so specialised and the FSA have a monopoly on the market in Scotland and England, there's no chance of me doing that job here.

"I've now applied for a similar job in Ireland and I'm hopeful that I'll get it, but it means I now have to move away from my family and friends."

During the tribunal, the FSA claimed there had been a breakdown in trust and confidence between the agency and Mr Blue as a result of the posts.

However, Employment Judge Peter Wallington QC said: "The claimant had an exemplary record of performing his duties, in particular with reference to instituting any necessary enforcement action.

"There were no objective reasons to believe that his performance would in the future be different simply because his foolish participation in what he had mistakenly believed to be a private online conversation had become more public."

Mr Blue was awarded a total of £32,799.13 - including £4,560.96 for breach of contract and £28,238.17 for unfair dismissal. He had asked to be reinstated with the agency, but the judge rejected his request.

A spokeswoman for the FSA said: "We are disappointed with the tribunal's conclusions but believe that the decisions managers took were the right ones given the circumstances at the time."