Lawyers for a sacked trust chief executive are fighting to force North West regional director Robert Tinston to take the witness stand in an employment tribunal hearing.

Les Howell was suspended and subsequently sacked from his post at Guild Community Health Care trust in Preston last year, following a statutory inquiry into the care of a former patient, Daniel Holden, who was convicted of murder.

His dismissal and a subsequent row over the payout he should receive led the then health secretary, Frank Dobson, to demand the resignation of the entire non-executive board. Three members who refused to go were sacked.

At a preliminary hearing on Monday, an application to force Mr Tinston to take the stand was rejected. But Mr Howell's lawyers still have until 24 January to present 'compelling' reasons for Mr Tinston to attend the tribunal.

Mr Howell claims that Mr Tinston took an active role in the dismissal of the three non-executive board members, instead of simply acting on Mr Dobson's decision.

Lawyers acting for Mr Howell were also refused access to an independent report into Mr Howell's conduct by Anne Galbraith, former chair of the Royal Victoria Infirmary trust, Newcastle.

Mr Howell was initially suspended after a delay in putting the report of an inquiry into Mr Holden's case to the full board.

Mr Howell's union, the First Division Association, said this was because much of it was an 'unsubstantiated personal attack' on Mr Howell and other members of staff. Labour MP for Preston Audrey Wise described the Galbraith inquiry as a 'downright disgrace' and said there was no evidence to support its criticism of Mr Howell.

A spokesperson for Mr Howell described his situation as 'Kafkaesque', adding: 'He has never had sight of the Galbraith report, so he does not know what charges he needs to defend himself against.'

A spokesperson for North West regional office said: 'Robert Tinston had no part in this process at all', but insisted: 'It is for the tribunal to decide who they will or will not call.'

The full tribunal hearing is expected in March.