A HEADTEACHER and his partner sacked over allegations of inappropriate conduct have won unfair dismissal cases against their former school.
Bernie Routledge and Helen Price said they were “delighted” to be vindicated after the “most horrific time” of their lives over the past two years.
A Shrewsbury employment tribunal yesterday upheld all claims by Mr Routledge, who was dismissed from Howell’s School, an independent girls day and boarding school, in 2011.
The panel also upheld claims of his partner Helen Price, dismissed as head of physical education and child protection in 2012.
The case was adjourned but the couple were told they would be entitled to “substantial” damages.
Howell’s School is considering appealing against the decisions.
Mr Routledge, who lives in Gwernaffield, near Mold, was sacked over allegations including inappropriate contact with pupils on social networking site Facebook, via a page called the Bernie Routledge Appreciation Society (BRAS).
But employment Judge John Thomas said his behaviour “did not amount to misconduct sufficient for a dismissal”.
He said it might have been “unwise” to be associated with the BRAS page, but “it should have been dealt with by a quiet tap on the shoulder or severe slap on the wrist”.
He said it was clear Mr Routledge’s style, including wearing Hawaiian shirts and pink socks to work, did not match with the style of Howell’s trustees.
“But what that has to do with competency to teach is not clear,” he said. “It’s not misconduct.”
He said trustee Robbie Locke had a “disproportionate prejudice” about Mr Routledge’s teaching style that could not help but impact on his brother Alan Locke, who was brought in to investigate Mr Routledge.
He said the tribunal agreed Mr Routledge’s dismissal was triggered by him threatening to suspend staff member Sarah Hickman, a friend of the Locke family.
That came after concerns she was involved in pressuring other staff to fill out inspection questionnaires dishonestly. Mr Routledge also raised concerns about irregularities in pension payments.
Ms Price, of Pantymywn, near Mold, was suspended shortly after her partner in 2011. She went for over a year without a disciplinary hearing in what Judge Thomas said was “an affront to good employment practices”.
Judge Thomas said there could be no criticism of Ms Price’s professional conduct and the Denbigh school failed to prove her pregnancy while on suspension was not used as a tool to get rid of her.
John Benson, representing Mr Routledge and Ms Price, said Howell’s School had taken a “truly indefensible approach to two employees with impeccable backgrounds”.
He said both Mr Routledge, who formerly taught at the King’s School in Chester, and Ms Price had been stigmatised by the allegations and out of teaching for two years, which would make it hard for them to continue in their chosen profession.
Mr Routledge was now working as a self-employed salesman and had only recently started applying for teaching jobs again.
“Every single penny I’ve had has been spent fighting this case,” Mr Routledge said.
Speaking after the judgement Mr Routledge said: “After two years our position has been completely vindicated by the tribunal.
“They have found in our favour on every single claim made.
“Howells contested these allegations in a manner the judge has described as being ‘wholly without merit’.
“It should never have started. The whole thing from the start was a complete put-up job.”
“I’m delighted. It has shown them for what they are,” he said.
He said they wanted to thank their solicitors, families and friends “who have supported us through what has been the most horrific time of our lives. It’s affected everything.”
He said he had been on anti-depressants and tablets for blood pressure and heart rate.
He said a lot had been made of the idea that teachers were not allowed to go on facebook.
“That’s not true at all,” he said. “It’s 2013. Social networking is an issue, but I think within reason most people will behave professionally.
“Had anyone approached me at the time I’d have said, ‘oh, yeah, okay’ and that would have been it.”
Both Mr Routledge and Ms Price said they could never forgive Howell’s trustees for the way they had been treated.
l AFTER the verdicts a Howell’s School spokesman 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.”