A SENIOR teacher was unfairly dismissed from a Blackburn secondary school after governors carried out an 'inadequate' investigation into claims against her, a judge has ruled.

An employment tribunal found Caroline Swan, who was part of the senior leadership team at Our Lady and St John Catholic College, was unfairly dismissed because the governing body did not conduct a reasonable investigation when she was subject to a disciplinary hearing in 2013.

Judge Pauline Feeney, sitting in Manchester, dismissed claims made by Ms Swan that she was discriminated against because of a disability.

Ms Swan, who suffered from depression and anxiety, started working at the North Road school in 1991 as a PE teacher and in 2004 became director of the arts college.

In a detailed judgement, Judge Feeney sums up a number of incidents in the run up to the disciplinary hearing, which include claims made by Ms Swan that the then headteacher Colette Gillen pressurised her into returning to work after her mum died in 2010, made her attend counselling before she was ready, instigated three disciplinary processes and sanctions against her, was critical of her demeanour and pressured her to deliver a sixth form media course on her own. These allegations were dismissed by the tribunal.

Ms Swan was given a written warning for a breach of confidence after a text message meant for an ex-colleague and friend discussed Ms Gillen's retirement, the tribunal was told.

Then in 2012 she was subject to an investigation for alleged bullying and intimidation of a colleague, who she had been good friends with, causing disruption and undermining two other teachers, harassment and lying to school management about her abilities.

She was also accused of using school equipment for her own gain, and while on sick leave when she made DVDs of a dance concert, for inappropriate IT usage, making inappropriate comments, which were seen as rude and sarcastic including clapping at the headteacher and discussing a pupil in the presence of other students.

The investigation by the governors found all the allegations were proved and a disciplinary hearing was set for May 2013, which was then postponed until October.

The hearing found some of the allegations to be proved including three that amounted to gross misconduct including bullying, lying and the clapping incident, and she was sacked without compensation in November 2013.

However, Judge Feeney said Ms Swan was unfairly dismissed because the governing board, including school governor James Gilda, failed to conduct a reasonable investigation.

Judge Feena said: " It was not even-handed as Mr Gilda did not follow up any lines of enquiry which might exonerate the claimant other than listening to her evidence.

"Mr Gilda took the part of the management side’s witnesses at every opportunity.

"If it was one person's word against another he always believed the person other than the claimant."

She said he failed to justify his conclusions when questioned by Ms Swan's union representative Robert Young and there was further extensive evidence that should have been heard.

She said in relation to the clapping incident it had happened 12 months before and the headteacher did not take any disciplinary action against Ms Swan at the time, while it was unfair to pursue the lying claim as this was made in a private communication with a friend

She said: "To move from somebody saying in a private email “I have lied to them” to finding that this was gross misconduct is not a reasonable conclusion to draw from the evidence."

Regarding the bullying accusation which was alleged to have taken place over 18 months, Judge Feeney said the information regarding the timescale was obtained after the disciplinary hearing and that Ms Swan was not given an opportunity to reply to it and in evidence the alleged complainant Suzanne Hall, concentrated only on events during one month in 2012 at a time when she was purporting to be Ms Swan's best friend.

She ruled the investigation was 'inadequate and there was insufficient evidence to reach the conclusion the panel reached'.

Judge Feeney dismissed Ms Swan's complaints that she was harassed because of a disability which included chronic fatigue syndrome and migraines.

They accepted Ms Swan's complaint that the school had breached its contract by not paying her until the outcome of an appeal and the case is now to be listed for a further remedy hearing.

John Girdley, executive member for the NASUWT, said: "NASUWT will always robustly defend members in such cases and take action against employers who breach our members' rights.

"We will continue to support this member."

Patrick Murden, executive principal of Our Lady and St John, said: "The Employment Tribunal found that Caroline Swan was dismissed unfairly and in breach of contract.

"They rejected all of Ms Swan's claims of discrimination and harassment.

"We accept the judgment of the tribunal, which occurred during the tenure of the previous governing body and under previous school leadership.

"We are confident that the school will not find itself in this position again."