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Angry gran wants ambulance wages; Tribunal will hear claims against firm.

Byline: Alastair Craig

GRANDMOTHER Diane Bennett has joined a legal battle launched by North East ambulance drivers against a firm which owes her thousands in unpaid wages.

Mrs Bennett claims she is due more than pounds 6,000 from private Norfolk-based firm East Coast Ambulance Service.

The company was enlisted by ambulance chiefs in the North East to provide back-up cover during a busy period last summer.

Mrs Bennett would be given her shift patterns every week, but suddenly all telephone and email contact with East Coast bosses stopped.

The 51-year-old, from Kenton, Newcastle, first contacted the firm in June last year when she discovered it was recruiting ambulance drivers operating out of Newcastle.

Dozens of claims have been lodged against East Coast Ambulance Service by former workers across the country.

Mrs Bennett, who has three grand-children, started driving work with East Coast on the same day as Mark Blake - another victim - and is part of a group seeking compensation from a tribunal judge.

Mrs Bennett said: "It's appalling what's happened.

"All we want is the money we are owed but we are losing hope.

"None of us can afford to write this money off. This has left us all struggling. We're probably not holding much hope of seeing our money, but we want people to know what this company has done."

And she claimed: "We have been treated abysmally." East Coast Ambulance Services was founded in 2005 and provided independent ambulance cover to the public on behalf of the National Health Service.

It employed hundreds of staff across the country.

It is believed that late last year the firm's bank accounts were frozen by Lloyds TSB, which the company owes money to, and it ceased to operate.

In the London Gazette - the public record of the financial state of all United Kingdom firms - East Coast Ambulance Service is listed as "subject to a winding up petition" filed by Lloyds TSB. A petition hearing was held in London's High Court on January 30. An employment tribunal hearing involving Mrs Bennett and Mr Blake, along with three other former workers, is scheduled to start next month.

Mr Blake, 32, from Stanley, County Durham, sold his light haulage and removals company to join East Coast, dreaming of a new life as a paramedic.

The father-of-three had previously ended a career in the armed forces after serving in Bosnia with the Blues and Royals regiment, which is part of the Household Cavalry.

But his ambitions were crushed when East Coast hit financial trouble and left him, he claims, with pounds 6,000 of outstanding wages. A spokesman for North East Ambulance Service, which hired East Coast to cover a busy period last summer, said: "We have used East Coast Ambulance Service on an ad-hoc basis in the past, much in the way hospitals use bank nurses during periods of high demand.

"The issue over alleged non-payment of wages is a matter for East Coast Ambulance Services, who employed the individuals concerned."

East Coast's managing director Derek Clarke and communications manager Matt Quigley could not be contacted for comment.


DETERMINED Diane Bennett, above, believes she is owed more than pounds 6,000 and is involved in an employment tribunal hearing with others including Mark Blake, inset with his wife Lisa and their children Anya and Chelsey
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 17, 2012
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