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Former police officer 'fished to lay blame' Council boss tribunal hears claims of bias.

Byline: Rob Pattinson

AFORMER top-ranking police officer set out on a "fishing trip" to pin blame on a North East council boss, it has been claimed at a tribunal.

Retired Durham Police Detective Chief Superintendent David Grey was accused of refusing to find against the "hand that was feeding him", when he was called in by Durham County Council in 2007 to investigate Christina Blythe.

The alleged "bias" meant when he came to question Mrs Blythe he "interviewed her like a common criminal", a tribunal heard.

Mrs Blythe was fired from her pounds 66,000-a-year role with Durham's Youth Engagement Service after Mr Grey recommended disciplinary action against her. The mother-of-two, 51, of St Nicholas Drive, Durham City, is now claiming unfair dismissal.

A former deputy head of King James Community Arts College, Bishop Auckland, she also alleges she was victimised and discriminated against because she is a woman and struggles with diabetes.

At a tribunal, being held in Newcastle this week, Mr Grey said he was asked by the council to investigate a number of allegations against Mrs Blythe, including undermining her boss David Williams, and failing to take action against a member of staff following a child protection failure.

The former police officer defended the manner of his investigation into Mrs Blythe's conduct, saying it had been conducted with impartiality, integrity and objectivity, but Mrs Blythe's lawyer, Edward Legard, accused him of operating under "bias".

"I'm suggesting to you, what you did is to set out on quite a productive fishing trip," he said.

The tribunal heard the allegations made against Mrs Blythe were "inextricably linked" to the grievances she had made against her boss at the council, David Williams. Mr Legard suggested to Mr Grey his conclusions had been made in the knowledge, not to recommend disciplinary action would amount to finding against Mr Williams.

"To exonerate Mrs Blythe would be to find against Mr Williams, who was the man who commissioned the investigation - the hand that was feeding you," he said.

Mr Legard also quizzed Mr Grey on the manner he used to question to Mrs Blythe during the investigation, claiming he had asked "loaded questions".

"I'm suggesting you were acting as prosecutor and accuser in one... the manner you went about it meant you were gathering information that tended towards guilt rather than innocence," he said.

Mr Grey refuted all claims he had taken the council's stance and embarked on a "fishing trip". He said his only aim had been to find "the facts".

"As far as I knew the grievance procedure had been completed. I didn't familiarise myself with the allegations she made against Mr Williams," Mr Grey said. "My approach was devoid of any bias... I don't see anything wrong with my questioning." Mr Grey said his phrasing of the questions had been designed so Mrs Blythe could understand the allegations against her. He said when he questioned Mrs Blythe every effort was been made "to be fair", allowing her time to talk through explanations before an official answer was noted down.

Mrs Blythe claims she was victimised when her role was removed during a management shake-up carried out while she was off sick. She also claims she was excluded from competing for a further vacant management post, and said her job was downgraded.

She brought a grievance against the council, but was dismissed in January 2008, following the disciplinary proceedings Mr Grey recommended. Durham County Council deny all claims against them. The tribunal heard earlier that the charity boss at the centre of bullying allegations against the Prime Minister bungled an inquiry into Mrs Blythe's claims of victimisation.

Christine Pratt was brought in to probe the allegations Mrs Blythe was ousted during a management reshuffle.

The hearing is expected to end next week and the tribunal is expected to return its verdict in the spring.

The Journal have been unable to reach Mrs Pratt for a comment.

CAPTION(S):

TRIBUNAL Left, Christine Pratt - the woman at the centre of bullying allegations against Gordon Brown, right - was brought in to hear claims of victimisation against Christina Blythe, above
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 3, 2010
Words:685
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