An estate manager was unfairly dismissed from the Home of Rest for Old Horses, a tribunal has ruled.
But Martin Townend, 59, will only receive a fraction of the compensation he could have been awarded as the tribunal found he had contributed to his dismissal for gross misconduct.
Welcoming the tribunal’s ruling that he had been unfairly dismissed, he said: ‘It’s been a tough seven months and I’m just relieved it’s all over.
‘My concern was the manner with which the horses home dealt with it and the panel has come to the right conclusion.’
Mr Townend started work as estate manager at the Richmond Hill-based horses home on June 8, 2020.
His employment contract was updated in December 2022 and he entered an agreement to rent a cottage on the site.
He moved in some belongings and furniture but never actually moved into the cottage because on March 23 this year his employment was terminated by summary dismissal based on an allegation of gross misconduct.
The tribunal heard that Mr Townend had previously been well-regarded and complimented by the small team of directors but this all changed towards the end of 2022 following the retirement of Jill Moore as general manager and the appointment of Barbara Cucchi as equine and operations manager.
Mr Townend said the previously very happy relationship became more strained and he thought that Ms Cucchi wanted the cottage rather than an apartment that was available. On the available evidence, however, the tribunal could make no finding on this.
On February 10 this year, the claimant was preparing to move into the Cottage when he had a telephone call from a director asking him to go to the boardroom where he was provided with a letter suspending him on an allegation of ‘negligence resulting in unacceptable loss or risk of injury to the animals’.
He was offered a package of payment of three months’ notice or alternatively informed he would face a disciplinary hearing for gross misconduct and that if found guilty, this would result in instant dismissal with no notice payment.
Mr Townend was not initially told what lay behind the allegations. In turned out that he faced three allegations, one involving the safety of an animal and the other two involving a failure to close a gate, exposing the horses to the risk of being able to get out onto the main road.
The first gate allegation was not upheld and the claim that Mr Townend’s negligence had led to a horse called Happy to slip and fall was not proven.
But the disciplinary hearing upheld an allegation of gross negligence in connection with an incident on February 8 in which Mr Townend had left a gate open while driving a JCB to a barn.
The tribunal concluded that Mr Townend was unfairly dismissed. It did find, however, that the process leading up to a finding of gross misconduct was fair.
But it found that the complainant must bear his share of the blame for taking the risk that he did on February 8. ‘There is one certainty among the disputed facts of the precise circumstances. This is that the gate was left open at a time when it could so easily have been immediately shut to prevent any risk of escape,’ the tribunal said.
It calculated the compensation he should be awarded for unfair dismissal as £30,299.50, but reduced this by 75%. Mr Townend was awarded compensation of £8,662.88.