North East Wales

Howell's School, Denbigh: Head wins unfair dismissal case

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Media captionBernie Routledge and Helen Price won all their case against Howell's girls School in Denbigh

A head teacher and his partner sacked by a private girls' school have won their claims for unfair dismissal.

Bernie Routledge was suspended and later sacked as head of Howells in Denbigh for alleged "inappropriate" conduct with pupils on Facebook.

Helen Price claimed she lost her job as head of PE and pastoral care because of her association with Mr Routledge.

A tribunal in Shrewsbury said there was no evidence of conduct justifying the dismissals and found in their favour.

Trustees Robbie and Nicola Locke suspended Mr Routledge because of concerns over his conduct and communication with pupils on a Facebook page, The Bernie Routledge Appreciation Society.

He was sacked after a disciplinary hearing carried out by Mr Locke's brother. Ms Price was also eventually dismissed for misconduct.

She told the hearing she had a good working relationship with the Lockes until January 2011, but her treatment after that was "disgusting and very, very unfair".

An employment tribunal panel said that there was no evidence of conduct in either case that would justify dismissal.

Panel chairman John Thomas concluded that both Mr Routledge and Ms Price had been unfairly dismissed and had suffered detriment as a result.

He said the school had not proved the reasons for dismissing the pair.

In Ms Price's case, the chairman said there was no evidence that she had done anything wrong in her role as head of PE and pastoral care, and the panel had found no kind of blameworthy conduct.

He rejected the claim by Robbie and Nicola Locke that there had been a breakdown in trust and confidence through the fault of the complainant.

In Mr Routledge's case, Mr Thomas said: "We do not think the claimant was dismissed for misconduct. We think there has been a non-admissible reason."

'Cack-handed'

He added: "His style of teaching clearly didn't match the aspirations of the respondent. But wearing a Hawaiian shirt and pink socks is not misconduct."

He described the way the disciplinary procedure had been handled as "cack-handed" and "chaotic", saying the panel felt the dismissals were as a result of issues raised by Mr Routledge regarding the conduct of a member of staff who was a good friend of the Lockes.

The Facebook issue could have been dealt with by a "firm tap on the wrist" and being told not to do it again, he said.

Mr Thomas added: "It would not amount to conduct that would justify dismissal."

All claims for both complainants were successful.

Mr Routledge said they had been "totally vindicated" and that he was "absolutely delighted" by the findings.

The panel will consider issues of loss of earnings later on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Howell's School, Denbigh, said: "Our over-riding priority at all times is to provide a safe environment for our girls and we do have strict child protection and social networking policies in place for their protection.

"The school does not tolerate misconduct in relation to the safeguarding of children and acted accordingly to dismiss the staff concerned and, while we accept we may not have followed the correct procedure, we still stand by our action and will be considering an appeal.

"We are in loco parentis and we take our responsibilities very seriously. We therefore acted quickly and decisively - we did the right thing for the right reason and we have been contacted by parents who fully support what we have done."

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