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Hope of legal first in bid to hold a tribunal; Family say claims dead daughter failed to protect vulnerable are false.

Byline: Michael Brown

ANORTH East family are bidding to clear their dead daughter's name in what could become a legal first for the region by making what is believed to be an unprecedented application to an Employment Tribunal.

Melvyn Bell, 72, wants a tribunal to give him the chance to clear his social worker daughter of failing to protect vulnerable women - an accusation allegedly made by her previous employers.

Maureen Bell, 38, of Springwell, Sunderland, committed suicide last December, three years after failing to get a job because, her family claim, of comments made by her previous bosses in a reference.

Maureen had been deeply hurt by what was allegedly said in the reference, having previously been a victim of sexual assault herself, her family claim.

They are attempting to bring a claim against Wearside Women in Need for what her sister described to the hearing as "post-employment victimisation".

Loved ones of the former Bede School pupil claim she was persecuted after attempting to alert charity chiefs to bad practice by a colleague. The tribunal heard Wearside Women in Need had provided a reference in which it claimed Maureen had failed to follow the correct whistle-blowing procedure.

The family only discovered her desperate bid to find legal help and clear her name after her death. A hearing intended to establish whether the case can proceed to tribunal was part-heard this week, in Newcastle.

A legal expert told The Journal that, if the family is successful, the case could be the first of its kind in the region for decades. Maureen's older sister Anne Bell, 40, said the family had no interest in a payout, just securing an apology. The staff nurse, of Havelock Park, Sunderland, said: "We just want to clear Maureen's name of this smear which affected her so badly.

Being a social worker was the be all and end all for her, she had worked so hard to get there.

"In 1997 she was a victim of a sexual assault and after that she wanted to help people in a similar position.

"So she started volunteering and even did home study A-levels and qualifications so she could help."

Sister Julie Bell, of Halesworth Drive, Sunderland, told employment judge Marilyn Martin: "We just desperately want to clear our sister of these unsubstantiated allegations. Maureen was upset by the allegations she'd failed to protect vulnerable women, especially with her past experiences.

"She had high professional standards and if she had done what the reference said then she wouldn't have wanted to be a social worker anymore."

After the withdrawal of a job offer at Sunderland City Council, in 2007, Julie Bell said her younger sister had spiraled into depression, been declared bankrupt and lost her home. Miss Bell said: "She had a recurrence of her post traumatic stress disorder. She was desperate to clear her name as in the absence of children of her own, social work was her life."

The family told the tribunal hearing Maureen had been told a tribunal wasn't possible in her position.

She had considered bringing a defamation claim but was too "poor" and failed to convince a solicitor to do the case on a no win, no fee basis.

Julie said: "Eventually she found a solicitor and when I asked her about what was happening last year she said she didn't want to talk about it . "I assumed that meant she'd signed some form of agreement that meant she couldn't tell anyone about it.

"But on November 25 she was dropped by them. In desperation she even tried to turn to law students, but on December 11 last year they replied saying it was too complex.

"That was the last post she opened and read." The family told the hearing the full circumstances of what had happened only came to light after Maureen's death, in January, this year, when they met with her former solicitors. Julie said: "That's why we're now requesting to be allowed to go ahead so we can get answers, clear her name and get closure."

The original allegations against Maureen were provided to Sunderland City Council in October 2007, when she applied for a job there.

The tribunal heard she had attempted to turn whistle-blower at Wearside Women in Need, in spring 2005. The family, who are representing themselves, have asked a tribunal panel to consider their case even though the time limit for bringing a claim has expired.

The case was adjourned until July 12, when Wearside Women in Need will get a chance to make further submissions.


TRAGEDY Maureen Bell CLAIMS MADE AT TRIBUNAL Maureen Bell's sister Anne and dad Melvyn
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 26, 2011
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