Matt Driscoll, a former senior sports reporter at the News of the World, has won his claim for unfair dismissal against the paper, after an employment tribunal found that his former editor, Andy Coulson, presided over a culture of bullying.
Driscoll was sacked in April 2007 while on long-term sick leave for stress-related depression. Costs and damages will be determined at a further hearing next year.
In the judgment from the Stratford Employment tribunal, it said of his dismissal: “We find the behaviour to have been a consistent pattern of bullying behaviour… with the intention to remove him from their employment, whether through negotiating a settlement package or through a staged process of warnings leading to dismissal.
â€œThe original source of the hostility towards the claimant was Mr Coulson, the then editor of the News of the World; although other senior managers either took their lead from Mr Coulson and continued with his motivation after Mr Coulson’s departure; or shared his views themselves.”
Coulson resigned as the paper’s editor in January 2007 after the paper’s royal editor, Clive Goodman, was jailed for four months for plotting to intercept messages. Coulson was appointed Conservative party director of communications in May last year.
The tribunal criticised sports editor Mike Dunn, now in charge of the sports desk at The Sun, saying: â€œWe find that Mr Dunn, has with the benefit of hindsight and in order to attempt to bolster the respondent’s case, exaggerated any shortcomings the claimant may have had.â€
Driscoll joined the paper in 1997 and was promoted, but blotted his copybook in August 2005 when he failed to stand up a tip from editor Coulson that Arsenal were planning to play in purple shirts which later appeared in The Sun.
The judgment said: â€œThe impression given us, from reading the documentation and considering the evidence as a whole, was that the senior management team were going through a cynical process of giving an appearance of fairness towards him.
“By giving him a first warning, final warning and then dismissal, they hope to avoid a successful unfair dismissal claim.”
The tribunal heard that when editor Coulson found out Driscoll was off sick he sent an email to his deputy editor saying: â€œI want him out quickly and cheaply.â€
The tribunal was told that following the â€œget him outâ€ email, Driscoll received numerous phone calls, emails and recorded letters to his home between 17 July and 4 August 2006 from NoW staff.
Before Coulson took charge, Driscoll had been told by his sports editor, Mike Dunn, that he was being promoted to chief sports writer, but Coulson blocked it, the tribunal heard.
Driscoll told the tribunal that three unwarranted disciplinary charges were brought against him to try to pressure him into resigning.
He said it was the stress of the disciplinary proceedings that made him ill. He has still not fully recovered nearly two years later, the tribunal heard.
Senior management at the paper refused to deal with National Union of Journalists representative Steve Turner and sent Driscoll a barrage of emails, phone calls and visited his home to demand that he see a company doctor. This was despite Driscoll’s GP advising him to “distance” himself from the source of his stress.
During the hearing, in May, Driscollâ€™s barrister, Matthew Sheridan, asked Stuart Kuttner, managing editor of the News of the World, about an email he sent to Coulson about Driscollâ€™s illness. â€œYou were updating Coulson on how his plan to remove Mr Driscoll quickly and cheaply was going,â€ said Sheridan.
Kuttner replied: â€œThat may be what Mr Coulson wanted, but that wasnâ€™t happening.â€
Driscollâ€™s father, Robert, told the tribunal that he wrote to the newspaper to say that his sonâ€™s GP was concerned to hear of the unremitting bombardment of letters, phone calls and emails from the News of the World straight after his sonâ€™s illness was diagnosed.
Robert Driscoll said the GP considered that his sonâ€™s illness was due to the immense stress he had been put under by his employers.
Kuttner told the tribunal: â€œMr Driscollâ€™s father was completely distorting reality. We were trying to helpâ€. Kuttner said Driscoll was dismissed because he could not say when he would be able to return to work and the paper needed to replace him.