Wigan Council sacks librarian over online posts

The employee was dismissed following a disciplinary hearing related to her social media activity.

Friday, 23rd July 2021, 4:45 am
Maureen O'Bern, who has been dismissed from her job at Wigan Council

Maureen O’Bern, who worked at Leigh Library, was dismissed without notice after a disciplinary hearing found her actions constituted gross misconduct.

Ms O’Bern, from Scholes, criticised the council online over the involvement of Chinese state-owned firm BCEGI UK in the redevelopment of The Galleries.

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It also said she had engaged in an aggressive confrontation with a woman online, calling her a “fascist” and a “racist paedophile apologist”.

Ms O’Bern said she had expected to be dismissed but felt the involvement of BCEGI UK in The Galleries scheme was ethically wrong and she felt compelled to speak out.

She said: “I was expecting it and I totally agree that I have broken the council’s social media policy, but I do feel I did it for a good reason and it was in the public interest.

“It was a difficult position and maybe the council felt they had no alternative but to sack me, but I think it needs addressing that I think they have broken their own ethical policies by appointing that firm to do that work.”

The hearing found Ms O’Bern had repeatedly breached council procedure in her use of social media, damaged the town hall’s reputation by criticising it in public, made extremely offensive remarks to a member of the public and spoken to the press about an employment matter.

She had been given a management directive in January 2020 about her use of social media, which she said related to her standing in the 2019 general election.

However, she felt that running for parliament meant she should speak frankly when questioned by residents on the campaign trail.

She said: "I did stand in the 2019 general election as a pro-Brexit candidate. It's hard to stand and not make comments on social media that might be controversial or critical.

"When you are standing you are answerable to the people who you want to vote for you."

The dismissal letter, in its outlining of the findings, said several times that the hearing was not concerned with the nature of her views but the forum in which they were expressed and the way they were identifiably from a Wigan Council employee.

Ms O’Bern said she would continue to speak about The Galleries redevelopment and that she intends to stand as an independent candidate in next year’s local elections.

She also suggested she would look to appeal the dismissal decision.

A Wigan Council spokesperson said: “We can confirm that Maureen O’Bern has been dismissed following a thorough investigation and disciplinary hearing.

"During the hearing the employee admitted that her actions, which include those dating back to early 2020, were in breach of the council’s policies, including the employee code of conduct and acceptable social media policy.

"As Ms O’Bern has indicated her intention to appeal this decision, it would be inappropriate to comment further given the internal process has not yet been concluded.”

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