Essex: Colchester United defend legal challenge by former club stalwart

COLCHESTER United has won a legal battle against a former player and chief scout who claimed he had been forced out of the club by a previous manager.

At the conclusion of an employment tribunal yesterday, Paul Dyer, 57, of Colchester, was told that he had not been wrongfully or unfairly dismissed from the club where he had been a stalwart for 23 years.

Owner and chairman of Colchester United, Robbie Cowling, said after the tribunal in Bury St Edmunds that the “right decision” had been made.

“It’s clear that Paul has done a great job at Colchester United over the years and that’s something the club will always be grateful for,” he added.

“It’s a shame that things have had to come so far. We offered Paul five times what he would have expected to get from redundancy, so he’s lost out and the club has lost out because it’s cost us money to be here.”

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Mr Dyer, who spent five years at the club as a player and 18 in other roles including chief scout, had claimed that former manager Paul Lambert did not want him at the club and pressurised Mr Cowling into getting rid of him in January last year.

However Judge Robin Postle said in his verdict that the club had a “genuine reason” to dismiss Mr Dyer on the grounds of redundancy.

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Judge Postle said that Mr Cowling’s primary business, Aspire Media, and the club he had purchased in 2006 were affected by the recession in 2008 and needed to make changes.

“With advice from his then manager he was looking at ways to cut costs and make the club more efficient,” he said. “With three scouts going around the country this was an area where the club felt savings could be made.”

The judge went on to say that although there was genuine reason to dismiss Mr Dyer, the employer had to act “responsibly and fairly” throughout the redundancy procedure.

The judge raised concerns that because of Mr Cowling’s direct involvement in the redundancy process it meant that he should not have been the person to hear Mr Dyer’s appeal.

He said the process had been “floored”, but added: “We are of the view that had Mr Cowling not been involved in the meeting or the appeal and they had brought in an independent third party then the decision to dismiss the claimant would have been the same.”

The tribunal also found that Mr Dyer was only an employee at the club since he signed a written contract in 2006 and prior to that he had been working on a voluntary basis and paid expenses only.

Mr Dyer’s solicitor, Peter Norbury, had argued that the claimant had been dismissed without notice at a meeting on January 14, 2009 and not been given “reasonable opportunity to consider his responses”.

He also argued that his client’s employment at the club started in 1991 even though he had not been given a written contract.

Mr Dyer did not wish to comment after the tribunal.

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