The sacking of a UK social worker from a Jersey secure unit would have been considered unfair if his employment tribunal had concluded, an inquiry has found.
Simon Bellwood, who went public in Community Care last year with his concerns, claimed children were being locked up in solitary confinement for 24 hours or more under a system known as grand prix, and that his manager had bullied and harrassed him at the Greenfields unit.
Bellwood claimed unfair dismissal last year and his case went to an employment tribunal this March, which was settled in his favour halfway through the proceedings. As part of the settlement, an independent inquiry into the circumstances of his sacking was commissioned by the States of Jersey employment board.
The inquiry by UK employment law specialist Robert Upex, published this week, concluded that “the outcome [of the tribunal] was very likely to be that Mr Bellwood’s dismissal would in all the circumstances be considered unfair.”
It found that Bellwood’s employers failed to follow appropriate procedures because they “lacked awareness” of Jersey’s recently introduced unfair dismissal legislation under the Employment (Jersey) Law 2003, which came into effect in 2005.
Upex also said that no individual involved in Bellwood’s case “should be made a scapegoat for what was in effect a systemic failure.”
Bellwood’s complaint to his employers in January last year included a claim that the residential secure manager’s conduct towards vulnerable children and young people at Greenfields “constituted serious abuse.”
This included the use of the grand prix system, which Bellwood and others have claimed contravened national and international childcare standards. Upex said it had not been part of his brief to express views on or inquire into the system.
Bellwood welcomed the report and told Community Care he felt “vindicated” by its findings. But he accused the Jersey government of continuing to “scapegoat” him by spinning its findings.
Frank Walker, Jersey’s chief minister, said the government would adopt the inquiry’s recommendations and improve the way managers and human resources staff dealt with similar cases.
The Upex report is the third inquiry to result from Bellwood’s case. Following Bellwood’s concerns, the Jersey government commissioned two other inquiries into care and penal services by UK social work expert Andrew Williamson and the Howard League for Penal Reform.
Williamson’s review, published earlier this month, said the grand prix system was no longer in use. He also called for an external organisation to oversee children’s services and for a whistleblowing policy to strengthen protection for staff.
The Howard League for Penal Reform is due report on penal services, including the use of the grand prix system, later in the year.