December 9 2013 Latest news:
Thursday, October 3, 2013
A former PR man for a Norfolk hospital could face a £51,000 bill and lose his family home if a legal battle goes against him.
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King’s Lynn is bidding to get Gary Howman to pay the £51,000 costs it was awarded after he unsuccessfully sued for wrongful dismissal.
He claimed he was wrongly sacked from the hospital for posting an email on the trust’s intranet, which purported to come from the chief executive, but was not genuine.
His claim for unfair dismissal was dismissed by an employment tribunal at Norwich, and the trust then applied for an order that Mr Howman should pay its costs.
Mr Howman, who has since become a King’s Lynn and West Norfolk borough councillor for Old Gaywood, appealed against the order for costs and appeared against the Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn NHS Foundation Trust at a tribunal in Norwich yesterday.
The court heard that if Mr Howman lost the appeal the home he jointly owned with his wife in King’s Lynn could be sold by the trust. The property is worth about £170,000, half of which would be used to pay the £51,000 costs.
However, the trust said at the meeting through its counsel, Martin Fodder, that it would not attempt to sell the property until the youngest of Mr Howman’s two children, who are now aged 17 and 12, reached the age of 18, which will be in March 2019.
Mr Howman has offered to pay the trust £5,000 up front, which would be a loan from his family, plus £40 a month for the next 15 years. That would total about £12,200, but the offer was rejected by the trust.
Mr Howman said at the tribunal that he was looking for both full-time and part-time work, but added: “I have two applications in at present, but you have to explain why you left your last employment, and have satisfactory references, which are both obstacles to me at the moment.”
He said it was “outrageous” that the trust would even think of enforcing the order to sell his home.
“I would rather deal with it amicably and in a different way,” he said.
Mr Howman’s counsel, Gary Morton, said that if the property was sold then Mr Howman and family would be homeless.
The tribunal judge reserved judgement and his decision will be sent to interested parties in the next few weeks.
Mr Howman was employed by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital from July 2008, latterly as its communications manager, until he was dismissed on March 18, 2011 – after a letter which purported to come from the trust’s chief executive was posted on the trust’s intranet. It was not a genuine letter, and the trust took steps to find out who had posted it.
Mr Howman was one of only four people whose access to the trust’s intranet enabled them to post the letter on the news section. The four of them were interviewed, and each of them denied having posted it. However, as a result of information given to the trust following an order for disclosure made by the High Court, the registered user of the e-mail address, which had been used to post the letter, was found to be Mr Howman’s wife. She had been nominated by Mr Howman as the person whom the trust should contact in the event of an emergency.
Disciplinary proceedings were brought against Mr Howman, who claimed there were elements within the trust who wanted to see the back of him, and they had used his wife’s e-mail address to post the letter. His denial was not believed, and he was dismissed.
Mr Howman advanced much the same case in the employment tribunal, though the issues there were not whether it had been him who had posted the letter, but whether the trust had reasonable grounds for believing that it had been him. The tribunal decided in the trust’s favour.
The employment judge noted that Mr Howman had made “scurrilous and unsupported allegations” about one of the trust’s staff, which had “clearly” been intended to embarrass him.