Council faces £500,000 bill after settling with care worker wrongly accused of theft (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Richmondshire District Council faces £500,000 bill after care worker wongly accused of theft
A LOCAL authority is facing a bill of more than £500,000 after agreeing to pay compensation to a part-time care worker wrongly accused of theft.
Senior councillors at Richmondshire District Council tonight (Friday, March 15) defended their handling of the case.
Jean Thacker took legal action against the authority after being suspended from her job as a live-in warden at Noels Court sheltered housing, in Catterick Village, North Yorkshire.
According to details released by her solicitor Stephen Jackson, Mrs Thacker, 63, was suspended in October 2010 when a member of the public claimed she had persuaded his elderly bother, a resident at the unit, to set up a bank account to allow her to steal money from him.
Mrs Thacker was barred from her flat and forced to move in with her elderly parents in Newport, South Wales.
In July 2011, police dropped their investigation, confirming that no bank account ever existed.
However, it took until a year after the original suspension for the council to complete its own disciplinary processes and to dismiss the allegations, said Mr Jackson, of employment law specialists Jackson Osborne.
Even then the council failed to properly acknowledge her innocence, he added.
After 16 months of suspension and allegations, Mrs Thacker began suffering from severe depression.
Mr Jackson said he was “astounded” by the lack of evidence against his client and the intransigence shown by senior management at the council.
He said: “As her health could not improve while the council failed properly to acknowledge her innocence, Mrs Thacker could cope no longer and in March 2012 she resigned claiming constructive dismissal.”
Mrs Thacker said: “I would not wish my worst enemy to go through what I have suffered.
"I lost my home and my friends. I regarded the residents at Noels Court as my friends and still it worries me how they have been treated.”
Referring to the settlement, she said: “I will look on this settlement as the apology I was due.”
Richmondshire District Council will pay Mrs Thacker £345,000, but the council will also pay her tax, which could push the bill to almost £600,000, her solicitor said.
Council leader John Blackie said: “Richmondshire District Council takes its duty of care for residents living in its sheltered housing schemes very seriously indeed - the well-being for the 30 residents in Noels Court was its key priority in this matter.
“In this case we unfortunately allowed our duties to our residents to take our attention off our responsibilities to the employee.
“We believed the course of action we took was the appropriate way to deal with what was a complex and very sensitive set of circumstances but we now accept that acting this way breached employment rights under employment law.”
Coun Blackie said the council had launched an investigation into the case.
The council said the settlement would be taken from the authority’s housing contingency reserve and would not affect the council's housing programme in any way.
“This case is unique to Richmondshire District Council as in the last 20 years there has not been one single claim of this nature against the council. With the lessons learned we intend to make sure this is will be the first and last such case,” he added.