An amazing meeting of Terrington St Clement Parish Council ended after just a couple of minutes and descended into a shouting match.
The council was due to hold a 15-minute open forum. But when Cheryl Thompson attempted to present a letter demanding answers over the dismissal of her friend Lindsey Miles as a caretaker of the council’s sports Pavilion, council chairman Steve Phelps immediately adjourned the meeting.
“We cannot discuss staff matters in public,” he said.
The meeting came in the wake of a tribunal ruling in Ms Miles’ favour saying she had unfairly lost her job after being told to ignore the fact that fire alarms in the Pavilion did not work. The judge accepted her evidence that she was told, “Ignorance is bliss”.
As the meeting was dissolved, Mr Phelps left the room with some other councillors, while other members sat bemused.
Ms Miles attempted to speak saying she had been the one to do no wrong but had lost her job.
Meanwhile parish council clerk Karen Treacher told those gathered that the matter was not closed legally and that she had been harassed.
Ms Miles, who has two children aged six and eight, told the Lynn News afterwards: “I loved working here and was gutted to lose my job. It has been terrible for my children to see me break down, everytime I got another letter.
“This has put my family through hell.”
The council has been ordered to pay more than £2,000 in compensation to Ms Miles.
She took legal action against the council after she was sacked from her role in April last year.
An employment tribunal has now concluded the council’s procedures were “inherently flawed” and Ms Miles had no chance of receiving a fair hearing.
The 10-page judgment, which was published ahead of Wednesday evening’s meeting where councillors refused to discuss the matter, outlines several grievances raised by Miss Miles over her employment.
In one instance, she claimed that she was told by her line manager, the Ms Treacher, not to inform users of the pavilion that a fire alarm was not working with the comment “Ignorance is bliss.”
Employment judge Robin Postle said he was satisfied Miss Miles had made a protected disclosure under employment law and had been unfairly dismissed partly on those grounds.
On Ms Treacher specifically, he added: “I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that she did say to the claimant when the issue of the defect in the alarm was raised that ‘ignorance is bliss’.”
He was also highly critical of the council’s handling of other complaints Ms Miles made, including one relating to holiday entitlement.
The report reveals that two of the councillors who took part in the hearing where Ms Miles was formally dismissed had prepared statements against her, which were not disclosed.
Judge Postle said: “It appears that whatever the claimant said at the disciplinary hearing, the decision had already been taken to dismiss the claimant.
“That is not how you proceed in the modern world dealing with a fair, and proper, and just dismissal.
He said Ms Miles was not given a proper opportunity to respond to the allegations made against her, which he concluded appeared “vague and rather subjective.”
He added: “It is clear that once the claimant had made complaints about her annual leave and about her Parish Clerk, and about the alarm she was never going to get a fair hearing.”
The judge also described Ms Miles and her witness as “honest, straightforward and candid”, but criticised the council’s evidence as “confusing” and “lacking in credibility”.
He described the evidence of one councillor, Sheila Young, as “like shifting sand”.