Head loses his appeal

A HEADTEACHER, dismissed as he lay in a hospital bed after a feared heart attack, has lost an appeal against his sacking.

Kevin Cooney was suspended from his job at Garswood Primary in April 2008, when it was discovered building work he had commissioned at the school was faulty, and would cost £20,000 to correct.

He was later sacked in his absence, after being rushed to hospital with a suspected cardiac arrest, while on his way to the disciplinary hearing. Tests revealed he had not had a heart attack, and he was discharged later the same day.

Aggrieved, Mr Cooney took the school’s governing body and St Helens Council to an employment tribunal, claiming unfair dismissal.

But the panel has now ruled they were within their rights to sack him.

Mr Cooney had claimed his dismissal was unfair and “an act of disability discrimination”.

The tribunal, however, found the governing body took proper note of all the facts available, and would have reached the same conclusion had Mr Cooney attended. The nine-day hearing was the culmination of years of legal wrangling.

The 59-year-old’s downfall arose from commissioning door and window replacement work at the school by local contractors, completely ignoring the commissioning protocols which should have been observed. He said he was doing it to get the work done more quickly.

But the project went wrong. The doors had locks on which experts said presented an “extreme risk” in the event of a fire situation, and much of the fittings had to be replaced.

The asbestos register was also not consulted during drilling work, which meant toxic dust could potentially have been released. However, the walls in question did not contain the fibres.

Mr Cooney, from Magull, was suspended in 2008, and dismissed in February 2009.

Coun Sue Murphy, chairwoman of the Garswood Primary governors, said: “We welcome the decision of the employment tribunal.

“It has always been our determination to ensure that governance is of the highest standard at Garswood, and we are pleased that the tribunal upheld our decision.”

Alec McFadden, president of the Merseyside TUC, represented Mr Cooney throughout his three-year battle.

He said: “We only received the written judgement on Friday, and we are obviously disappointed in the decision. Our legal team is now reviewing whether or not to appeal the decision.”

Mr Cooney was unavailable for comment.

Will Burrows, head of employment law at Lewis Hymanson Small, who acted for the school and St Helens Borough Council, said: “We’re very pleased with the outcome of the tribunal after so many years of hard work.

“The result reflects the council’s dedication to the safety of those in its care, and is a credit to the diligence of the present governing body of Garswood Primary School.”

Mr Cooney made numerous counter-allegations against Coun Murphy, which were submitted to the independent Standards Committee. All but one minor protocol infringement was thrown out, for which Coun Murphy received a mild admonishment.