Tesco warned of tribunal claim risk over Ipswich murder suspect suspension

Suffolk strangler suspect Tom Stephens will give Tesco a huge HR headache if he is released by police this week, according to experts.

Stephens, 37, was arrested on Monday on suspicion of the murders of five prostitutes in Ipswich.

He is currently being grilled by police investigating the killings and has been suspended from his job as team leader by the supermarket chain.  

But police can only hold him for 96 hourse so would have to release him by Friday eveneing if not enough evidence is found to charge him.

If he is cleared of committing a crime, Tesco would have to either allow him back to work, or leave itself open to an employment tribunal claim.

Emma Burrows, head of employment at law firm Trowers & Hamlins, told Personnel Today: “If Stephens is sacked, he could sue for wrongful dismissal. It would be a fascinating case.”

Bad press

It seems unlikely that the supermarket giant will want a man working in the aisles of its Martlesham store who has been linked in the national press with five murders.

But any disciplinary action – including the current suspension – must be considered carefully and well backed up to survive a legal challenge.

“There was a case where a long suspension was given to somebody without proper consideration of the alternatives, and it was ruled illegal,” Burrows said.

“If Stephens is found to be innocent, then he should be able to return to work. But Tesco may argue that the bad press surrounding him would have a negative impact on staff and the store’s reputation. It would be very interesting.”

A Tesco spokesman  said: “This is a police matter and we will not be commenting further.”

Questioning continues

Suffolk Police confirmed on Monday that a man, understood to be Stephens, had been arrested on suspicion of the murders of Gemma Adams, Anneli Alderton, Tania Nicol, Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholls.

Forensic scientists and police teams have been carrying out searches at Stephens’ home, in Jubilee Close, Trimley St Martin, and his mother’s home in the Suffolk market town of Eye.

Stephens denies any wrongdoing. Another man, thought to be former QE2 steward Steve Wright, 48, was arrested in connection with the murders on Tuesday. Wright is now a fork-lift truck driver but his employment details are unknown.

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