A media director has been ordered to pay 26 employees made redundant when the weekly newspapers they worked for ceased publication – but he is set to appeal the decision a second time.
An employment tribunal has ruled Duncan Williams must pay a sum believed to total in the region of £250,000 to former members of staff at the View From series, which was based in Lyme Regis.
Mr Williams had bought the company for £1 on 16 January last year, 12 days after the redundancies were announced.
A previous hearing ruled he was liable for claims of staff still awaiting pay in lieu of notice, redundancy money and arrears of pay – rather than the papers’ previous owner Peter Masters.
Mr Williams was subsequently unsuccessful in his attempt to have that ruling overturned – but has now launched a second appeal following the latest judgement, made in Exeter last Thursday.
Earlier this week he apologised “on behalf of the company” to former View From accountant Anita Routley after she was awarded £16,500 in compensation at a separate hearing. However, he has declined to comment on the latest judgement while his appeal is ongoing.
Lead claimant James Coles, who was previously deputy editor of the View From series, told HTFP: “This is just another stepping stone on what seems like a very long road to justice being served. My job isn’t over until all of us actually have the money we’re owed in our bank accounts.
“If Duncan Williams doesn’t have the means to pay us, I hope he declares himself bankrupt as soon as possible in order that we can pursue our other potential avenue for recompense.
“I would also like to draw attention to the role previous owner Peter Masters had to play in this sorry mess, which is there for all to see in the employment tribunal’s judgement.
“Finally, on behalf of all of the claimants, I would like to thank barrister Natasha Joffe and Thompsons Solicitors of London, to whom we are greatly indebted. If it wasn’t for the fact that one of us, former chief reporter Anders Larsson, had the foresight to be a member of the National Union of Journalists, I doubt we would have even got this far – which, I hope, is a lesson everyone will take on board. Myself included.”
The tribunal found Mr Masters had failed to make “appropriate pension payments” to six of the claimants in the months prior to the titles’ closure, and that it appeared he was “deliberately trying to slim down the business with regard to a prospective sale, and in order to entertain offers for that sale” when the employees were dismissed.
Responding to the claims made in the judgement, Mr Masters told HTFP: “These business entities were purchased from administration. I understand the employees’ files were incomplete, muddled and in some cases non-existent. I was not aware of any pension contributions not being paid. The business was based in Lyme Regis and being run by the team down there.
“Given I owned the business for five months, and a lack of available information on the transfer, I can’t comment on what, if any, contribution has been paid or not.
“If anything was due, I’m surprised it was not discovered by Duncan Williams during his due diligence process and, in any event, would be his responsibility at that time.”