A headteacher who failed to disclose her friendship with a man convicted of making indecent images of children was correctly sacked by her employer, the Supreme Court has ruled.
Caroline Reilly lost her job at a primary school when governors discovered her close relationship with Ian Selwood, with whom she had bought a house. Although the pair were not in a sexual or romantic relationship, they were close friends and had gone on holiday together.
Ms Reilly applied for the position of headteacher at the primary school in January 2009, a month before witnessing Mr Selwood’s arrest by police on suspicion of downloading images of children. She was subsequently appointed to the role in September 2009 but when Mr Selwood was convicted in February 2010 she decided not to disclose her relationship with a convicted sex offender.
In June 2010, the local authority learnt of Mr Selwood’s conviction and his friendship with Ms Reilly, and summoned the latter to a disciplinary hearing the following May, where the panel ruled she had committed a serious breach of the implied term of her contract, amounting to gross misconduct. There was particular concern over her refusal to accept that her relationship with Mr Selwood might pose a risk to pupils.
Ms Reilly took Sandwell Metropolitan Council, the local authority, to an Employment Tribunal, claiming she had been under no obligation to disclose the information. However, her case was rejected – the same outcome when she pursued the matter in the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court ruled that because Mr Selwood was the subject of a serious, recent conviction and because he represented a danger to children, there was a potential risk to the school.
As headteacher, Ms Reilly was likely to know important information about her pupils, including their whereabouts, their routine and their circumstances at home. She was also likely to be able to authorise visitors to enter the school premises.
Ms Reilly’s continuing refusal to accept that she had been in breach of her duty suggested a lack of insight which, it was reasonable to conclude, made it inappropriate for her to continue to run the school.
How can Gotelee help?
This is ultimately a pro-employer decision, but it is one which has taken nearly seven years in the tribunal and court system to reach that point! Determining whether it is fair and reasonable to dismiss an employee is not always easy. Taking advice is sensible, especially in a dismissal scenario, to make sure you have your procedures right, and also that the decision you make is a reasonable one.
Our employment lawyers have a wealth of experience in advising and representing businesses large and small, in Suffolk, Essex and beyond on these sorts of issues – we’d be delighted to help you.