Christian charity found to have unfairly dismissed a senior manager says it will appeal

A Christian charity has said it will appeal a tribunal decision that it unfairly dismissed a senior staff member for whistleblowing.

Martin Parsons joined the Barnabas Fund as head of research and director of studies in October 2015, an employment tribunal in Bristol heard.

He claimed he had been victimised and then dismissed after making four protected disclosures to the charity between September 2018 and February 2019.

The judgment in the case, published last month, says all four of those disclosures were in relation to health and safety – in particular, concerns about the amount of driving involved during a speaking tour organised by the charity in September 2018. 

The charity did not accept that these were protected disclosures.

After Parsons sent an email to senior colleagues raising concerns about exceeding the legal limit for driving, Patrick Sookhdeo, co-founder of the charity, responded by saying Parsons was “a snake and was manipulative”, the judgment says. 

Sookhdeo was the international director at Barnabas Aid International, part of the Barnabas Fund.

In 2015, Sookhdeo was given three community sentences of three months each for one count of sexual assault and two counts of intimidating a witness or juror.

He had resigned from his position at the charity, despite trustees at BAI later asking him to reconsider his decision

BAI is now defunct, but the Barnabas Fund confirmed that Sookhdeo was an adviser and fundraiser, and was international director at its successor organisation, Christian Relief International.

Parsons was told he should never have raised the concerns, could not be trusted, and if he went to any of the statutory organisations he would no longer work for the charity, the tribunal judgment says. 

He later told Sookhdeo that what was occurring could amount to witness intimidation, and told another colleague he felt he was being treated like a “social pariah”.

The tribunal heard that Sookhdeo did not speak to Parsons for several months before he was sacked in May last year for insubordination and breaching trust.

The employment judge, James Bax, ruled that Parsons had been unfairly dismissed after making a “protected disclosure” under whistleblowing laws.

He said: “The threats to [Parsons] by Dr Sookhdeo and the attempts to persuade the claimant to apologise for making a protected disclosure took place shortly before he was subjected to disciplinary proceedings.”

The charity said in a statement that trustees respected the tribunal’s findings but had a different view of the facts laid out in the judgment.

“The trustees also believe that it is not unreasonable that a Christian organisation should follow Christian principles when seeking to resolve disputes with employees (so long as they do not contravene employment law),” it said.

A spokesperson for the charity said it had started the process to appeal against the tribunal’s judgment.


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