A LABOUR council leader has claimed “SNP incompetence and backstabbing” was behind taxpayers being left with a £1million bill after an employment scandal.

Joe Fagan, who became boss of South Lanarkshire last year, said the previous SNP administration had to explain its role in the “eye-watering” pay-out.

It followed the Herald revealing the final outcome of a five-year employment battle involving the former head of the council’s arms-length leisure body.

Gerry Campbell, 61, was paid £800,000 in damages and legal costs after being unfairly dismissed as the boss of South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture (SLLC) in 2019.

The legal bill for SLLC and South Lanarkshire Council, its main funder, is estimated to be in excess of £200,000, taking the final cost to the public purse to £1million.

READ MORE: SNP council scandal leaves taxpayers with £1million bill

An employment tribunal found Mr Campbell, who had a legal disability because of stress and anxiety brought on by a series of family crises, was subject to “manifestly biased” treatment.

He was wrongly accused of interfering in a workplace grievance when in fact his role had been “minimal” and he had no case to answer.

A deeply flawed council investigation had also failed to talk to key witnesses, misrepresented opinion as fact, and proved “prejudicial” to Mr Campbell’s treatment.

The tribunal suggested there had been a concerted campaign at the council to oust him.

A turf war between the council and SLLC over handling the workplace grievance also saw the authority’s then SNP leadership force out SLLC chair councillor David Watson.

Cllr Watson, who now sits as an Independent in the East Kilbride West ward, quit the SNP in protest at his mistreatment after 36 years as a member.

The SNP council leader at the time was John Ross, who now leads the SNP opposition. 

His deputy at the time of the scandal and now is Maureen Chalmers. 

Mr Fagan said: “For years, the SNP in South Lanarkshire have avoided accounting for their role in this debacle, specifically the removal of Councillor David Watson as Chair of the SLLC board and everything that followed from that. 

"It is time for John Ross and key figures in his administration to break their silence and explain how their decisions exposed taxpayers to this eye-watering bill during a council funding crisis and forced out one of the most respected councillors in Scotland

“Our leisure and culture services are confronting a legacy of neglect and underinvestment.  

“Now local services have to bear the costs of SNP incompetence and backstabbing too."

The Herald: Gerry Campbell was unfairly dismissed and discriminated against while boss of South Lanarkshire

He added: "South Lanarkshire SNP promised a new era of openness and transparency but gave us a culture of cover-up and complacency. 

“South Lanarkshire is moving on but we are still paying for SNP failures in office.

"The public deserve the transparency they were promised and a full explanation."

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Central Scotland Tory MSP Graham Simpson added: “This monumental blunder has caused extreme distress to the individual wrongly dismissed for misconduct and has cost the then-SNP-run authority an absolute fortune.

“At a time when South Lanarkshire Council has been making savage cuts to vital local services, including leisure facilities, local residents deserve to know where the money has come and who is to blame for an entirely avoidable compensation pay-out. 

“The public, and the employee mistreated, deserve answers and for those responsible to be held accountable.”

Cllr Ross responded: “Sadly, Joe Fagan exposes his leadership inexperience.

"Both myself as Leader and Depute Leader Councillor Maureen Chalmers followed all internal and external legal advice given. 

"The SLLC Board led the process and we played no part in this. The current depute leader of the council chaired the appeal process.

"Cllr Watson was not removed from his position as chair of SLLC but resigned from the council group and the party making his position as chair untenable. His decision to resign from the party is his alone and I will make no further comment on that.

"The deterioration of SLLC services was fully evident before we became the administration in 2017 and the recent takeover of the administration by a Labour/Lib coalition supported by the Tories are clearly intent on managing further decline. Time to stop playing political games and provide the leadership our communities need."