A teacher who was investigated over a child pornography offence has won his case for unfair dismissal partly because his employers did not make it clear he was at risk of being dismissed through the reputational harm he’d cause them.
Prosecutors had decided to discontinue the case against the teacher, who cannot be named for legal reasons, despite an accusation that he possessed indecent images of children.
The teacher’s local authority, however, decided to dismiss him, saying there had been a breakdown of trust and that he posed an “unacceptable level of risk to the council of serious reputational damage”.
This led the teacher to register a case of unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal, which he lost. But he has now won his claim at the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Edinburgh.
Lord Summers found the council was wrong to have dismissed the teacher on the basis that he might have committed the offence, and that his invitation to a disciplinary meeting did not make it clear that he was at risk of being sacked on the grounds of reputational risk to the council.
The tribunal was told that the claimant had been employed by the authority for 20 years and had an unblemished record.
However, on December 30, 2015, according to The Herald, police searched the man’s home on suspicion that “indecent images of a child or children had been downloaded to an IP address associated with the claimant”.
The claimant, who denied that the images had been downloaded by him, then informed his headteacher about what had happened and was suspended while an investigation proceeded.
Police charged him with possessing indecent images of children and a report was submitted to the procurator fiscal.
However, in April 2016, the Crown Office stated it would be taking no further action at that time and informed the council that it could “could give no view on whether the claimant was a risk to children”.
At a disciplinary hearing the claimant explained that he had no idea why the indecent images had been on his computer.
He was dismissed in December 2016 following the hearing.
His dismissal letter stated that the council was “unable to exclude the possibility” that he downloaded the images and it would cause “serious reputational damage” if the incident became public knowledge.
Lord Summers substituted the original tribunal’s decision with a finding of unfair dismissal. The case will now return to the original tribunal.