A SLAUGHTERHOUSE worker with more than 40 years experience at the same plant has won more than £40,000 in damages after he was sacked for a “21 second” oversight.

Brian Christie started working at meat processing factory McIntosh Donald 42 years ago, but was dismissed last year for apparently failing to report a colleague’s inappropriate behaviour.

But Mr Christie insisted he had not seen what happened – and believes he was offered up to visiting auditors “like a lamb to the slaughter” to appease them.

He took his case to an employment tribunal, claiming he had been unfairly dismissed, and won. A judge has now awarded him £43,000, and said in his ruling that Mr Christie was “guilty of, at most, an oversight.”

Mr Christie said: “I cannot believe they sacked me for what was effectively 21 seconds of me not looking at someone – after 42 years with an unblemished record.”

The tribunal heard Mr Christie, of Portlethen, was working as a lairage supervisor at the Portlethen factory while an audit was being carried out on behalf of Tesco on August 3 last year.

The auditors spotted another employee lifting a sheep by its hind legs, in a way they considered breached animal welfare standards. At the time, Mr Christie was checking areas ahead of the auditors’ arrival, so was not present.

But later in the day, a manager looked through earlier CCTV and found footage that showed Mr Christie seemingly watching the same employee carry out the same manoeuvre.

The firm claimed Mr Christie had been guilty of “gross misconduct” by not stepping in to stop his colleague manhandling the sheep and was suspended.

He was also criticised for not reviewing CCTV footage regularly, although this was not part of his duties.

His colleague was dismissed, and an investigation was launched which led to Mr Christie also being fired, although he tried to argue that his view to the incident had been blocked and that he was busy with other tasks while the sheep was being mishandled.

In a letter to the firm , Mr Christie said: "I do not condone in any way the mistreatment of any animal. I can only conclude by again stating most emphatically that I did not witness [the employee] commit any breach of animal welfare.

"I thought every single person that knows me would have agreed I would not allow it. I pride myself on being good at my job."

In his judgement, tribunal judge Ian McFatridge wrote that it was clear from the company's evidence that a decision had been made that a senior supervisor's "head was going to roll".

Judge McFatridge said: "It appeared to me that by doing this the respondents sought to head off any criticism of them which might arise regarding the later incident and indeed this strategy appears to have been successful."

He added that it was "going to far" to suggest that Mr Christie would have noticed the animal being mistreated in the short space of time available.

A spokesman for McIntosh Donald said: “We stand by our decision to dismiss Mr Christie who was in breach of our stringent animal welfare policy. We will not allow any behaviour that transgresses these high welfare standards.”