Published: 06/12/2001, Volume III, No. 5784 Page 6 7

A paramedic who was sacked for sexually harassing a junior colleague has withdrawn his claim for unfair dismissal after accepting a£20,000 pay-off from his former employer.

Cumbria Ambulance Service agreed the deal after being advised that it might lose the case for 'technical' reasons.

The settlement came after an employment tribunal in Carlisle heard barrister for Neil Marston, Andrew Ward, claim the trust acted outside its own guidelines last year when it overruled a disciplinary appeal panel, which had recommended that Mr Marston should be reinstated with a written warning. The panel had already concluded that the paramedic team leader subjected a female colleague to sexual harassment, though Mr Marston has always maintained his innocence.

Mr Ward said ambulance service managers dismissed Mr Marston because they came under pressure from Unison, and from regional and district health service managers. 'It is our case that Cumbria Ambulance Service was bound by the decision of the appeals panel, ' said Mr Ward.

He said North Cumbria health authority chief executive Robin McLeod had urged the trust to suspend its 'normal disciplinary procedures', while Unison threatened legal and industrial action ifMr Marston was reinstated.

Paul Cape, for Cumbria Ambulance Service, agreed the trust was under pressure from district and regional office and from Unison to sack Mr Marston. But he added that 'the principle reason Mr Marston was dismissed was his conduct, not the outside pressure'.

After the case, trust managers defended both the cash settlement and their decision to dismiss.

'You can't have somebody found guilty of sexual harassment working for an organisation and being part of the management of an organisation whose employees are 50 per cent women, ' said trust chair Brian Clayton.

Fighting the case and losing would have incurred legal costs of around£50,000, he said.

Mr Clayton added: 'We got ourselves in a technical mess because of the appeal panel, but our board had the courage to go against their recommendation. '

Chief executive Alan Donkersley said Mr Marston's record with the trust meant he would never work as a paramedic again. The trust has now introduced changes to prevent sexual harassment.

Mr Donkersley also now sits on the trust's disciplinary panel.

The woman who accused Mr Marston praised the trust for supporting her, but said the appeal panel's handling of the case was 'a shambles'.