A Hove primary school teacher faces financial ruin after a judge found against him in a four-year fight over a reference that effectively ended his 30-year career.
Brian Tomlins, 60, of Hogarth Road, Hove, was ordered to pay £45,000 in legal costs after losing a claim against Brighton and Hove City Council.
The interim costs order – a downpayment on a potential bill for £73,000 – was made by Judge Simon Coltart after he gave his judgment in the case at Brighton County Court.
He found that Janis Taylor, the former head of West Hove Junior School, now Hove Junior School, was “under a duty” to give the career-ending reference.
He said: “A reference of this sort has to be fair to the recipient and the subject.”
The judge added that her views were “honestly held on reasonable grounds” and supported by two colleagues, including deputy head Teresa Rawlings, and an external consultant.
Mr Tomlins was a long-serving teacher at the school, in Portland Road, Hove, and had spent 20 years as the science co-ordinator.
He submitted evidence – ten years of test results – showing better scores in science than maths and English in support of his case that his reference did not accurately reflect his teaching ability.
And he included an Ofsted report which praised science teaching at the school.
Mr Tomlins said that when Mrs Taylor became head teacher at the school in 2007 she wanted to cut costs and as a result three staff were made redundant.
He said that he was vulnerable as an older, experienced and senior teacher because he was paid more than younger junior colleagues.
He believed that it was for this reason that he was “performance managed” under capability procedures. He did not accept some of the assessments of his teaching.
At his employment tribunal, he said, it was accepted that there was a personality clash between himself and Mrs Taylor. But he also said that Mrs Taylor had doctored his teaching assessments and misled the tribunal.
He added that he was given an ordinary notice of dismissal by the school’s governors. But a council panel had acted beyond its powers in changing the reason to gross misconduct. This was untrue and unfair.
The judge said that he was unable to “look behind” the findings of the employment tribunal which found that his dismissal was fair.
Mr Tomlins said that part of the reason he ran out of time for an appeal was because the council asked Sussex Police to arrest him and they did.
But when he asked the police to investigate the allegation of perjury against Mrs Taylor, the force took no action.
Mr Tomlins was first arrested after he approached the school for a reference, he said. He was arrested earlier this year for a second time for putting up posters saying that Mrs Taylor was “wanted” for perjury because, he said, she had lied to the tribunal.
As a result Mr Tomlins was convicted of harassment at Brighton Magistrates’ Court last month, fined £300 and made the subject of a restraining order.
He was aggrieved by his dismissal and the two references – to the teaching agency Supply Desk. They had left him without teaching work ever since apart from brief spells as a supply teacher, he said.
But the judge said: “I find that she was completely justified. It was her honestly held view that he was not suitable for a permanent class position.”
Mr Tomlins pointed out that he had asked for binding mediation with the council several times before the case came to court but the council refused. Mr Tomlins had even offered to foot the bill.
The judge said that he had chosen to bring the case to court and, as the losing party, he had to pay the costs.
Mrs Taylor said afterwards that she was sad about what was “a very tragic case”.
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