A CATALOGUE of errors at an SNP-run council has cost the public purse an estimated £1million in one of Scotland’s biggest employment tribunal settlements.

Former leisure trust boss Gerry Campbell has been paid more than £800,000 after being subjected to unreasonable and “manifestly biased” treatment while suffering a disability.

The legal costs for the quango and its main funder, South Lanarkshire Council, are estimated to be more than £200,000, taking the final bill into seven figures.

The South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture (SLLC) trust was given a chance to settle the case for £170,000 in 2021, but chose not to do so.

The final payment was made to Mr Campbell last week after a five-year battle for justice.

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He had been accused of behaving improperly in a workplace grievance, when in fact his involvement had been “minimal” and there had been “no substance” to the allegation. 

Employment Judge Mary Kearns said officials and politicians at South Lanarkshire Council wrongly stepped into the affair, then botched an investigation into Mr Campbell. 

A litany of procedural mistakes included failing to interview key witnesses, reporting misinformation as fact and a disciplinary panel unable to hear evidence impartially. 

Judge Kearns said there were “no reasonable grounds” on which to sack Mr Campbell for gross misconduct, and the decision to do so was “based on obvious inconsistencies, errors and wrong assumptions which no reasonable employer would have made”.

The disciplinary panel which dismissed him “failed to carry out a reasonable investigation and used a procedure that was manifestly biased”.

The council was SNP-run at the time, but is now under Labour control.

Mr Campbell told the Herald: “I was put through the most appalling investigation and fault-ridden disciplinary process that led to my dismissal. 

“It’s taken close to five years to finally reach an outcome for what I was put through. 

“I was forced to seek professional help due to the impact on my mental health

“With the help and support of my wife and family, the former SLLC chair councillor David Watson, and many former colleagues including my lawyers at Harper McLeod, I was determined to hold them to account for what they did to me and the organisation. 

“I was fortunate to have the financial resources and support network to pursue this course of action and obtain a convincingly favourable judgment at an Employment Tribunal. 

“I am left wondering why it all happened and am concerned that other members of staff may also have been dealt with in an appalling manner.”

The Herald: Councillor David Watson was ousted as chair of South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture and resigned from the SNP in protestCouncillor David Watson was ousted as chair of South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture and resigned from the SNP in protest (Image: South Lanarkshire Council)

Mr Campbell, 61, started work for South Lanarkshire Council in 1999 and was appointed general manager of SLLC in 2006. 

The £33m-a-year charitable council offshoot is responsible for running the authority’s sports facilities, parks, threatres, libraries and museums, with the council its principal funder.

In 2016, a series of traumatic events including his father’s cancer diagnosis and his wife needing a liver transplant after an autoimmune disease led to his own health deteriorating.

The following year he was diagnosed with stress and anxiety, suffered sleeping and memory problems, became withdrawn and struggled with aspects of his job in a “downward spiral”.

It amounted to a disability under equality law and so his later mistreatment was classed as discrimination.

In July 2018, an SLLC worker raised a grievance which contained complaints about the senior management team, which included Mr Campbell.

The council was informed and started to give SLLC legal advice that conflicted with the trust’s own legal advice.

Given SLLC's arms-length status, Mr Campbell queried this during his brief role in the grievance issue, as did Cllr Watson, who pushed back against it.

The council’s political executive, which included then SNP leader John Ross, SNP deputy Maureen Chalmers and SNP business manager Peter Craig, then decided to remove Cllr Watson as chair, leading to him quitting the SNP in protest after 36 years as a member.

Amid acrimony and confusion, the council’s HR boss also sent a briefing note to the council’s then chief executive which was “prejudicial” to Mr Campbell.

It tainted the panel that sacked Mr Campbell from his £90,000-a-year job.  

In November 2018, on a day Mr Campbell’s wife was due to see a liver specialist after a prolonged bout of sepsis, the council’s HR boss called Mr Campbell at 745am and read out a series of misconduct allegations against him and asked for a response. 

He was accused of failing to follow legal advice over the workplace grievance, attempting to “frustrate the fair handling of an employee issue” and putting his interests before SLLC’s.

A junior council official investigated the claims but failed to interview the key players resulting in “serious errors” which carried through to later disciplinary and appeal stages.

It was, Judge Kearns said, something “no reasonable employer” would have done.

Despite his stress and anxiety, Mr Campbell was quizzed for four hours in an unfair way with “no account” given to his health problems.

The official’s fact-finding report then “misrepresented” the evidence, Judge Kearns said.

“It was also confusing, difficult to comprehend in relation to the allegations and lacking in objectivity”, with “inaccurate summaries interspersed with… comment and irrelevant fact”.

On a number of points, the official “went beyond her remit of fact finding and strayed into interpreting facts and recording her own opinions as fact”.

The official’s presentation to the disciplinary panel which sacked Mr Campbell in April 2019 “contained the same serious errors".

Judge Kearns said the sacking decision was based on “obvious inconsistencies, errors and assumptions that no reasonable employer would have made”, with some evidence “so flimsy that no reasonable employer would have found that it supported the allegations”.

There were “no reasonable grounds for the panel’s belief that [Mr Campbell] was guilty of gross misconduct”, she said, adding: “The case was flawed from the start.”

The Judge also suggested there had been an element of malice at play.

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“The Tribunal inferred … that certain people within SLC [South Lanarkshire Council] were intent on disciplinary proceedings against the claimant [Mr Campbell] and when they couldn’t get Cllr Watson to cooperate, they made changes to the SLCC board to that end.

“We were struck by the fact that Cllr Watson was removed / pressed to resign from the Board after he resisted pressure from SLC to ignore” the trust’s legal advice and hand control of the grievance to SLC.

It has taken more than a year for Mr Campbell to be compensated since Judge Kearns delivered her withering verdict in February 2022.

In April, SLLC finally agreed a settlement of £804,000, which included a £130,000 reimbursement of legal fees, £615,000 for damages resulting from his unfair dismissal and £44,000 over disability discrimination at work.

The latter two payments included a 25 per cent uplift because of poor employer conduct.

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An SLLC spokesman said: “We acknowledge the outcome of this tribunal and are glad for all involved that this episode has now concluded. 

“The events covered by the employment tribunal date from almost five years ago.

“Since then SLLC has moved on in many ways - there is a new management in place and the organisation has been reconstituted as a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. 

“The core focus of the entire team is on delivering the best possible leisure and culture services for the people of South Lanarkshire.”

A spokesman for South Lanarkshire Council said: “We note that the tribunal process between SLLC and its former general manager has ended.  The council provided support following a request from the SLLC board.”

Councillors Ross and Chalmers were contacted for comment.