Councillor claims he was unfairly sacked

Former Coun Edward Houlton
Former Coun Edward Houlton
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A FORMER Wigan councillor was sacked from his civil service day job for whistle-blowing, an employment tribunal heard.

Edward Houlton told an unfair dismissal hearing that he was the victim of systematic bullying in his post.

But relations with management at the Department of Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Salford debt collection agency deteriorated even further, when he made an official complaint that unwanted confidential files containing claimants’ names, addresses and National Security numbers were being disposed of incorrectly, by being put in the general rubbish bin.

The Conservative politician, who represented Lowton from 2004 to 2010, backed up his fears by presenting bosses with video and photographic evidence that staff were failing to follow the DWP’s strict procedures, to avoid potential identify fraud.

But he claimed that not only did they fail to act on his concerns, but a two-year-long campaign of alleged bullying against him by his line manager Mohammed Shafiq increased in intensity.

On one occasion, another manager told him off in front of other staff for undermining his team’s internal performance figures by “working too hard”, the tribunal was told.

It heard that on another occasion, the disability campaigner was ordered to take down pictures of his 12-year-old daughter Aimmee – who suffers from profound autism – from his desk area because the two prints may “upset others who don’t have children”.

Other staff, he claimed, were allowed to retain their family photos on desks.

And when he took an over the shoulder picture of a colleague allegedly viewing pornography on his DWP computer as evidence, he ended up being given a written warning – because taking pictures of other staff at work without their permission breached the civil service’s employment rules.

Unrepresented, Mr Houlton claimed that management, including higher executive officer Bernadette Holgate, who was then also a serving magistrate, had ignored his repeated complaints that he was being subjected to an “illegal criminal, as well as civil”, long-term campaign of bullying, which eventually saw him signed off work for two months with stress.

He says that comfort-eating through the ordeal saw him put on six stones, as well as contributing to him losing the council election, because he was distracted from putting out a strong campaign.

The father-of-one was dismissed in July 2011 from the administration officer position he had held for three and a half years, after a disciplinary hearing found him guilty of misconduc,t because of two e-mails he sent to Mr Shafiq, also a lay officer with the PCS civil service union, from his DWP computer.

It complained of the lack of a communication agreement over how staff health and safety grievances are dealt with.

Under cross-examination from counsel for the DWP Brian McCluggage, the DWP’s Andrew Drum, who held the disciplinary hearing which dismissed Mr Houlton, said it was the “content and language” used by Mr Houlton in the e-mails to Mr Shalif that had been the issue. Plus misuse of the DWP’s computer system and copying in other colleague into the correspondence.

The tribunal, which continues, will announce its decision today (Friday).